Layers, like chicks and growers, are taken care of by applying some routine operations daily and by performing some specific operations as the need for them arises.
Layers are raised in the laying house which should have been stopped and de-wormed at least 3 weeks before transfer before released eggs would reach the effective stage and cause re-infection.
The birds should also be deloused only a few days before their transfer. Crates are needed to move the birds during the coolest part of the day and this should involve two or three persons. The birds should not be handled roughly. When deep litter is used, well-made nests of the correct number should be fixed.
Below are the routine management practices that should be carried out in layers of management for optimum performance:
1. Dead birds are removed once found to prevent contamination of the live birds.
2. Fresh feed is added to stale feed in the feeder and mixed after the litter and droppings in the latter have been removed. A feed depth of not more than one-half is recommended and feed is given ad libitum.
3. Waterers are taken out, cleaned, and re-filled with clean, cool water.
4. Eggs are collected at 9 am 12 noon, and 4 pm.
5. The litter should be turned by using a rake.
6. If a battery cage is used and birds are in separate compartments, the drinking trough should first be cleaned removing the stale water, and then refilled.
Fresh feed is added to the stale one in the feeding trough and mixed up. Dead birds should then be removed.
These operations help to avert situations that may lower the performance of the birds. These operations include:
Culling: This is the continual elimination of undesirable birds from the flock. This may be due to poor performance broodiness, vice habits, deformities, or illness. However, layers are culled primarily based on their ability to lay eggs.
Fowls in production can be identified outwardly if their combs are large and bright, eyes are bright and alert, beaks are not parrot-like and their heads are not narrow.
Control of Vice Habits: Any vice habit observed is an indicator of a stress factor. Vice habits may be due to:
1. Inadequate space heading to struggle for survival
2. Nutritionally deficient diet particularly methionine causing pecking
3. The light is too bright may cause nervousness which results in the pecking.
Controlling Egg Defects: Egg defects include abnormal egg size, soft-shelled eggs, and a high percentage of eggs with cracks. Egg size tends to increase from POL to just before birds stop to lay.
However small egg sizes may be caused by the deficiency of amino and essential fatty acids like dietary linoleic acid. Shellless eggs may occur once in a while if the eggs spend a shorter time in the uterus, or the situation may be caused by diseases like pullorum, Newcastle disease, and bronchitis.
A high percentage of cracks is an indication of calcium deficiency or of vitamins A and D or the unbalance of nutrients. It may also be due to poor management like inadequate nesting facilities or hard floored nests and infrequent egg collection. To avoid dirty eggs, they should be collected regularly and the nest floor should be covered with dry, clean litter.
Handling Poultry Manure: The commercialization of poultry production has now made poultry manure constitute an environmental problem rather than an asset. Because it is moist and because of its content of nutrients and organic matter, manure is a suitable breeding ground for pestiferous flies like house flies.
Manure is often a source of odor caused by the production of fatty acids like butyric, valeric, and caprylic acids. Flies can be controlled by spraying droppings with insecticides and larvicides.
A form of biological control is the use of insects to prey on the larvae of the flies. Poultry manure can be disposed of by using it for gardening; it can be composted, incinerated, used for gas production, or as feed for livestock.
Poultry droppings are removed periodically depending on their quantity and/or condition. Also, poultry litter is removed before it poses a health hazard to the birds and fresh wood shavings are used to replace the old one.
The wood shaving should be raked with the droppings to keep it dry and free from flies. Incidences of wet litter occur and may be due to management errors like including too much salt in feed (this has a laxative effect), water spillage, overfilled water troughs, and seepage of underground water.
Handling Cage Fatigue: Some prolific layers and at peak of laying, some birds may suffer leg weakness which makes them squat, unable to reach feed and water, and eventually starve to death.
Cage fatigued is not remedied with medication but by releasing the birds from their cages onto floor litter where there is room for physical exercise. Grasses can also be harvested, washed, and put in the house for them to eat.
Moulting: This is the process of shedding and renewing feathers; it occurs normally once a year, though it may occur in certain individuals twice a year and more rarely, only once in two years.
Hens usually moult in the following order: head, neck, body (breast, back, and abdomen), wing, and tail. Birds can be force-molted by stress and by drug treatment.
Birds force-molted may produce more eggs, or larger eggs, have larger yolk at the expense of the albumen, higher haugh unit, and thicker shells while the birds have larger end-of-lay body weight.
The specific effect produced depends on:
- The period after the point of lay when treatment is applied
- Whether treatment consists of drug therapy or stress due to starvation and
- The duration of the molt.
It is considered necessary to force-molt when replacement birds are not readily available if the flock shows a decline in haugh unit to 72 and shell thickness to 0.3mm if there is a premium for extra large eggs and their prices of the egg are good.
Egg-eating: This starts in a flock usually by one or a few birds but soon rapidly spreads. Accidental breakage of eggs, soft-shelled eggs, and infrequent collection of eggs may prompt birds into this habit.
Other possible causes are nutritional imbalance and inadequate nesting facilities.
Heat Stress Management: Heat stress is a great economic threat to the poultry industry. Adverse effects of heat stress include depression in egg production, egg weight, shell thickness, feed intake, feed efficiency, fertility in the male, hatchability, and growth rate.
A well-ventilated poultry house helps greatly to combat thermal stress. Strains of the chicken differ genetically in their ability to resist heat stress, either in terms of survival rate or laying performance.
The White Leghorn appears to be the best in terms of laying performance. Resistance to thermal stress can be developed. A bird exposed to a warm climate for a certain period has its thermo-regulatory mechanism altered.
Because of reduced feed intake of the fowl under thermal stress, the bird then consumes less nutrients to support satisfactory levels of production. Thus, a part of heat stress management will be to increase the dietary nutrient density.
Dietary energy should be so increased as to cause fatness which aggravates heat stress in layers. Some drugs help to induce resistance to heat stress e.g. tranquilizers like reserpine and sympathetic agents like morphine. Physical measures to combat heat stress include a continuous supply of cool water to the birds.
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