Making It Easier to Achieve Top Performance

Flock uniformity is key, write Pete Sbanotto (Cobb 500 product manager) and Rodrigo Terra Celidonio (product manager, Cobb-Vantress, Brazil) in the latest issue of Cobb Focus.
calendar icon 23 July 2010
clock icon 7 minute read

As the breeding companies continue to select primarily for broiler traits, it becomes more challenging to achieve high levels of parent stock performance. Generally, the hen performance traits are opposed to the broiler traits – and when one trait is enhanced through selection, another trait may suffer.

Feeders raised out of the reach of the birds during the day at this new breeder facility in Poland

Excellent set-up for brooding chicks at Areca in Guatemala

Recognising that broiler performance and efficiency are always the driving factor in selection programmes, the breeding company and production managers must do everything possible to obtain the best performance from parent flocks.

Many techniques concerning feeding, lighting and weight control have been refined in recent years. But of all factors that affect breeder hen performance, uniformity of the flock is the most important. Management must be geared to preserving flock uniformity while accomplishing the feeding and bodyweight control necessary for good reproductive performance. Birds that are uniform can be fed properly and light stimulated with the greatest effect, resulting in both optimum production and persistency.

First 24 Hours

Flock uniformity begins even before the day-old chicks are delivered. The proper set-up to supply accessible feed and water in an environment of proper temperature and ventilation control reduces stress on the chicks, and helps all birds to begin growing properly. This is especially important when receiving chicks from a long delivery, as with international shipments.

When the birds arrive, the chicks should be placed on feed and near water. Feed availability can be assured by using at least one feeder lid per 80 to 100 chicks or by using brooding paper covering 60 per cent of the starting chamber. Feed can be placed directly on the paper, making it easy for the chicks to find feed and begin eating. Water should be close and easily reachable. Auxiliary watering devices such as chick founts or chick water jugs will help by supplying more and providing easier access to water in the first few days.

There are two ‘chick checks’ that will determine if the starting procedure is correct. The first is done four to six hours post-placement – checking the temperature of the chicks’ feet against the neck or cheek. If the feet are cold, the internal temperature of the chick is also reduced. This will result in poor early feed intake and poor growth, leading to poor uniformity.

The second check is done eight to 24 hours post-placement. At this time, 95 per cent of the crops should feel soft and pliable, indicating that the chicks have successfully located feed and water. Hard crops indicate chicks have not found water. Swollen and distended crops would indicate that the chicks have found water but not feed. Sample at least 100 chicks per brood area. If the crops do not feel right, the starting set-up should be immediately evaluated.


Grading of the birds by bodyweight is the best way to enhance the flock uniformity and best done as early in life as possible to have time to affect the frame size, generally established before four ot five weeks of age. Using four groups seems to work the best: the medium group, (which will be the highest number), which is all birds plus or minus 10 per cent of the average weight; the heavy group, which is those chicks more than 10 per cent heavier than the average; the light group, those birds that fall between 10 and 20 per cent under the average; and the super-light group, those more than 20 per cent under the average weight.

The birds are then placed into separate pens to be able to feed them separately the amount and ration that best meets their needs. Smaller birds can be fed more of a higher density diet early enough to give them the extra nutrients they need to catch up to the bulk of the birds in the flock. The heavier birds can be fed the amount normally fed to the medium group, and their growth rate will be controlled due to them only competing with like birds.

There are techniques that can be used in both rearing and production to maintain uniformity.

  • Having enough feeder space to accommodate all the birds eating at the same time is the most important. If there is not enough space, the more aggressive birds will push the timid birds away, causing an uneven consumption.

  • Feeding a low-density mash feed slows the consumption time due to higher volume, allowing the less aggressive birds more time to eat their share.

  • A feed delivery system that has the feed in front of the birds as quickly as possible is needed. This will help prevent the birds crowding at the point where the feed first appears.

  • Filling the feeders in the dark, both in rearing and production, allows the feed to be in front of the birds when the lights are turned on. The same thing can be accomplished by raising the feeders out of reach of the birds to fill them, and then lowering the feeders at eating time.

Grading by weight can be carried out as needed to establish and maintain uniformity. After the initial seven-day grading, another can be done at three to four weeks, then at seven to eight weeks if necessary, and possibly also at 11 to 12 weeks. After 15 weeks, any further grading should be done with an emphasis on body conformation rather than bodyweight. At this age, birds can be scored for fleshing conformation and fat deposition, and separated into pens according to those criteria. When a fleshing grading is done at 15 to 16 weeks, this allows some time to develop the body conformation of the underdeveloped birds to have them properly prepared for the light stimulation at 20 to 21 weeks.

If housing is available, the smaller females can be housed separately at transfer time so they will not need to compete with the larger, more aggressive birds. Larger males can be matched with the larger females.

It is important to realise that the advantages gained through grading will be lost if these management techniques are not followed. Any gain will only be temporary, and the labor expense involved in grading will be wasted. Benefits can be captured only if the complete programme is followed.

Putting emphasis on total flock uniformity is one of the most important items in raising a good performing breeder flock. When the birds are uniform, all the other management decisions are made much easier. A flock uniform in size comes into production better, peaks higher and persists better as these decisions are correct for a greater number of the birds in the flock.

Further Reading

- You can view the previous article from Cobb Focus by clicking here.

July 2010
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