The most important goal of any fertile-egg producer is to be the best, consistent quality supplier of the best quality hatching eggs to the hatcheries. Everything starts at the breeder level, which is crucial for ensuring quality and profitability down the supply chain.
Even the best breeder farm manager needs to know what he has in his houses. It starts with the breeder pullets that he receives. Going through their CV with the rearing manager is imperative. The day-old chick weights and mean should be up to expectations, as should weights at various ages, including the mean and expected weight on delivery day. For a good ‘visual’ on the arrival day, there should be a vaccination report, including possible reactions and the laboratory test results showing immunity levels. The veterinarian should be consulted too for advice on when to administer the follow-up vaccinations and on the best administration procedure to follow when giving them, which will be required up to depletion (61-64) weeks. In commercial egg layer breeds, this will be at 70-72 weeks.
Prepare for perfection
Uniform eggs from uniform hens is what the business is all about. It is critical for body weight to be within 50 grams either side of the breed target for the geographical area and type of housing to be used. Lighting is essential too. The lighting time clock should be preset according to the current requirement. One needs to know the current time clock settings from the manager of the site from where the flock originated and make any necessary adjustments. Regardless of whether the birds are going to go from a light tight rearing house CE to a light tight laying house CE, or to an open, naturally ventilated laying facility with or without curtains, the males should have been reared separately and delivered to the laying house two to three days before the hens arrive. Depending on the breed, their body weight and development should be in line with the breeder’s specifications.
A good stockman has everything prepared well in advance of the birds' arrival. [Photo: World Poultry]
The feed should be delivered and distributed to the houses two to three days before the males arrive. The water system has to be at the correct height and the correct pressure to deliver enough water. This can be fine-tuned after arrival, but a good stockman will have this in place beforehand as required. The preparation sheet will tell the farmer that the water lines have been shock treated and flushed so that no biofilm is present inside the nipple lines. If the water is hard, it can be beneficial to use a water softener, which will greatly reduce build-up inside the water lines. Ideally, PH should be at 6.5, but between 5 and 7 is good.
When the birds start laying, it is too late to repair shortcomings in the egg holding room. Good preparation doesn’t exclude any system. When checking out the house egg holding rooms, attention should be given to trolleys to ensure they are running smoothly, to check that required repairs have been carried out correctly and to verify that the cooler unit and the humidifier are up to spec. The calibrations are often forgotten. The actual figures on the thermometers and hygrometer should be calibrated by a technician a day after the washing is completed, not the day before the hens arrive.
Paying attention saves money
A thoroughly cleaned house will make a huge difference when it comes to the performance of the next flock. That means that the farmer has to be satisfied with the results of the swabs that are taken throughout the laying houses and their facilities, including equipment. If not, areas of concern should be re-assessed and washed and disinfected again and then rechecked to ensure that everything is 100% correct. Remember that, in the poultry production system, anything that goes wrong is going to cost money. There is no room for mistakes or forgetfulness. Everything needs to be correct the first time, every time. This needs to become a part of the culture among all people involved, regardless of status.
Equipment and materials
Regardless of the type of nest used, it is imperative that they are well-sited and easy to utilise by the hens. Good nest design, ventilation and positioning in the laying house is vital, so that the nests are inviting and the hens use them. If they are not, this will result in the production of many floor eggs and the loss of many potential chicks. It is also critical that lighting is not too bright where the nesting areas are located.
Treated/fumigated dry white wood (pine) shavings delivered in compressed, completely sealed, plastic bales are preferable, or else one of the synthetic brands, provided they have gone through the same process. A stock of additional nesting ma-terial needs to be stored nearby for top-up or replacement when necessary. A local type of organic material can perhaps also be used. Nesting material needs to be kept clean and free from droppings, which should be removed as eggs are collected. Further removal and replacement should again be carried out later in the afternoon after the last collection.
There are many combinations of housing and equipment available, from slatted flooring configurations to various litter types with
manual or automatic nesting systems and with automatic or manual egg collection. One is almost spoiled for choice and many decisions are made on the basis of pricing, which in many cases will determine the route taken. That’s simply economics and most available systems work well. The bottom line is the level of management provided and the expertise available.
The lighting programme should be set so as to stimulate the hens to lay the majority of the eggs in the mornings (up to 12 noon), thus enabling them to be collected, fumigated and moved to the holding cool room at 16-18 °C and 75% RH (relative humidity), with a final collection by early afternoon. This will help ensure that, if not in a CE house, the majority of the eggs will be laid and removed to the egg holding room by early midday. It is beneficial to discourage hens from sitting on other eggs before their egg is laid in order to reduce cracked eggs and prevent the eggs from starting embryonic development, which begins when the egg temperature exceeds 24 °C. RH percentage is also extremely important, as lower levels in warm climates and or summertime will increase evaporation from the egg and reduce its weight, resulting in lighter chicks. It can also have an effect on the air cell size. This becomes more important if the eggs are not collected frequently, as they will become warmer.
Science has shown that eggs laid early in the day have a thicker shell and therefore less chance of being cracked. The cuticle is the coating that covers the egg shell and it helps to protect the inside of the egg from bacteria, which can cause many problems internally. Many years ago the British Egg Marketing Board stressed the importance of not washing eggs, nor even removing a dirty spot with a damp cloth, as this would remove this covering and allow bacteria to enter, which would reduce shelf life in the case of commercial eating eggs. In the case of hatching eggs, it would also result in a lower percentage of HAE (hatch of all eggs) and reduce the number of first grade chicks.
In many situations, eggs are collected on plastic incubator trays. This allows for faster cooling from the laying house to the cool room via the fumigation chamber and when the eggs are put into the cooling and holding room awaiting collection. The eggs can be graded on site. The temperature here should be in the range of 16-18 °C. If not using incubator egg flats for collection, the next best thing to use would be normal plastic 30-egg flats, which can be colour-coded for each laying house.
It should be remembered that embryo development will begin at 24 °C +. It is imperative that the alarm systems connected to the egg holding rooms are set for a maximum temperature of 21°C and a minimum of 16 to 18 °C. That the temperatures have been checked and that this check is carried out daily and recorded. Also important is the cooling capacity of the transport vehicle. This should be easy to maintain at 16-18 °C, to check in the driver’s cab during the trip to the hatchery, along with the humidity reading at 70- 75 % RH.
It is not advisable to collect eggs in cardboard egg trays/ flats, as the fibre material absorbs egg heat and it takes longer for them to cool down. This is more of a problem in warmer climates. Because the fibre trays are fairly porous, they can also harbour unwanted organisms/bacteria/fungi and attract vermin. This will enable the current day’s production to be removed and stored at the correct temperature and humidity until loading time arrives for their transport to the hatchery. [Photo: Henk Riswick]
The eggs can be graded at the production site, packed in setter plastic trays and loaded onto trolleys. On reaching the hatchery, they can go through another fumigation before setting and then have time to settle for several hours before they are pushed into the setters for either multi-stage or single-stage incubation. The other option is to grade them at the hatchery. Depending on timing, it’s better to allow the eggs to stand over, as it will give them a chance to stabilise before setting, which will result in better hatchability with better quality chicks.
Essential in daily recording schedule
Daily feed consumption males/females grams/bird/day
House temperatures, min/max
Nest temperatures, nesting material surface/air temperature
Production percentage, hens housed and hens a day
Male/female ratio, taking mortality into account
Mortality number per day, male/female
Time clock settings
Humidity percentage levels, several times daily
Flock health indication
Check droppings for moisture content/texture/colour/smell.