Kindly advise, my flock is feeding at 145grams per bird per day. Water is automated and laying rate is still low. My birds are 11 months old. [Catherine Mugo]

Dear Mugo

You did not specify which type of breed your laying flock are, nevertheless the most common commercial breeds in this region are ISA Brown, Hyline, Lohman and Shavers.

With little differences in between, these hybrid flocks generally have exceptional feed conversion efficiencies and are considered profitable brown egg layers.

They have great laying persistency from age of 18 weeks to 90 weeks, low cumulative mortality of 6-8 per cent, high peak egg production of 95-97 per cent. On average, one hen can produce up to 420 eggs at 90 weeks of age on good management practices. Depending on feed quality, these birds will consume 120-140 grams per bird per day on a normal environment with low disease outbreak. At 11 months old (49 weeks of age), your flocks should be laying at the rate of 92 per cent. So what could cause low egg production below the breed standards? 

1. Diseased flock

There are many disease-causing germs that affect the immune system, respiratory functions of the birds and urinary and reproductive tracts of chickens that can result into drop or complete cessation of egg production. Fortunately, most of these diseases are preventable by good vaccination programme.

It is therefore important that a sound and well-designed immunisation programme is established and reviewed from time to time depending on the disease map of the region.

You will need a vet visit to rule out such diseases as Marek’s, Infectious bronchitis, Mycoplasmas, Egg drop syndrome, salmonellosis all of which are linked to production drops. E. coli infection is particularly notorious and may lead to protracted condition that will impact negatively at point of lay. Check for presence of lice and mites and apply appropriate chemicals with the help of your Vet doctor.

2. Poor feed quality 

Chicken farm

Choose the right feed for your birds during and at any period of production. How would you know the best feed in the market? Consult widely, talk to successful farmers. Cheap feed is not necessarily the best. The best feed must  meet the requirements of a bird in terms of calcium and phosphorus needs and high content of amino acids.

If production drop coincided with introduction of a new batch of feed, consider changing to another batch or completely to another brand. Carrying out feed analysis is a slow and frustrating system for a small farmer; besides the high cost of nutrient analysis, most farmers use elimination method to arrive at a fair conclusion.

3. Over/underweight birds

Are your flocks obese or extremely under weight? To do this, take a sample of five birds per 100 from the four corners and centre of the flock unit and weigh the birds once per week consistently.

Do this at the same position, time, and day of the week. Plot these weights against your expected standard. If you are not achieving your weights correctly you need to consult your poultry centre professionals for corrective action before it is too late. Birds weighing less than 1,300g will struggle to commence egg production, while fat birds with excess adipose fat will stop egg production. Overweight birds may produce eggs but with poor persistency, drops will be seen at 50 weeks of age. 

4. Inadequate water supply and quality

Water is the single most critical nutrient in poultry production and any limitation on intake or quality has a negative impact on production. The golden rule of thumb on water states that, ’if you cannot drink the water in the flock unit, then it’s not suitable for your birds’. 

Remember 70 per cent of total mass of the bird is made of water, if you limit water intake by providing dirty and highly alkaline water you automatically reduce feed intake.

Birds take twice as much of the water as feed. Automatic water system needs very keen observation. Any drop in water pressure or blockade by biofilms must be identified early enough and corrected before production drops. In hot periods, provide cool water for your birds. During this hot period, cool water will improve productivity. It is extremely important to protect the water tanks from direct sunlight by painting them white.

[The writer is Head vet Kenchic [email protected]]

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