It is possible to get very good laying performance with the current chicken breeds in Kenya, particularly the commercial layers. Even the improved kienyeji chicken breeds delivers a fairly good laying performance.
However, to get the best out of your layers, it is important to understand the laying capabilities of your chickens. You must also learn how to properly budget for your layer feeds from when they are day old to the time they hit the point of lay; know when to expect the first eggs, when to expect peak production in your layers, the duration of lay of your chickens as well as how to differentiate your laying chickens from the non-layers. All this information will guide you on how best to optimize your production for the best performance.
If you are raising chickens to lay eggs, you must not be “farm blind”. Make sure that you fully grasp all the factors that will impact the production of eggs.
The number of eggs that your chickens will lay will depend on a number of factors. These variables include the breed of the chickens, the management of the pullets before they begin laying eggs, the management of lighting in the poultry production system, management of poultry nutrition as well as the management of the space that is available for raising your layers.
The Chicken Breed
As a farmer, you have to decide on the best layer chicken breeds that you are going to rear. Consult widely in order to choose the best breeds that will give you the desired performance. After choosing your preferred breed, look for quality breeders or hatcheries that supply this breed that will guarantee you of optimal egg production.
However, the breed alone will not guarantee you optimal egg production from your layers. Ultimately, the quality of your flock management will determine whether your layers hit their genetic potential and produce the desired number of eggs.
The Pullet Management
The pullets must be managed well for them to produce a good number of eggs later on. The management must focus on the nutrition, lighting and the control of diseases.
When they are at the point of lay, the pullets will weigh about 1.5kg. A bird should not lay eggs before it has attained the right size otherwise it is likely to suffer from the prolapses of the cloaca.
The layers should be dewormed after every 8 weeks and debeaked when they are between eight weeks and twelve weeks.
Debeaking is a delicate task and you must call in a qualified poultry expert to do the debeaking. The lower beak of the hen should generally be longer as this will allow the hen to scoop the food. The pullet management is a critical stage so it must be managed properly as it will impact the overall success or failure of your poultry farming enterprise.
Lighting is one of the most important factors in layer performance. Light plays an important role in the poultry growth, reproduction and behavior. As a farmer, you must manage the lighting efficiently and maintain it an optimal level that will support efficient production.
Reproduction-wise, lighting will impact the sexual maturity of your chickens. The layers will need 24 hour of lighting during their first four weeks. Increasing the day length will increase the rate of sexual maturity of the birds and they are likely to begin laying eggs early.
However, if your pullets are stimulated to begin laying eggs earlier than usual, such as before 17 or 18 weeks, the chickens will likely not hit their lifetime genetic laying potential. To hit maximum egg production, you must provide the chickens with up to 16 hours of lighting during their peak lay.
The lighting duration should never be reduced when the chickens are in lay. However, watch out not to provide the hens with too much lighting. Too much lighting is likely to bring out various abnormal behaviors in your poultry such as aggression, egg eating and cannibalism.
In order to sustain optimal egg production over the laying period, the layer chickens must be fed a balanced diet. The layer chickens will require proteins, energy, vitamins, minerals and fats. However poultry feeding is costly, particularly for layer chickens. Generally, poultry feeding costs alone generally account for 70% of the entire production costs. This can drive some farmers into seeking shortcuts such as the adulteration of poultry feeds that will most certainly distort the poultry feed formulation for the layer chickens and the layer performance.
Between day old and 8 weeks old, a single layer chicken will consume 2kg of chick mash. A single pullet will consume 7kg of the growers mash between the ages of 9 weeks and 20 weeks. Cumulatively, a layer chicken will consume 50kg of the poultry mash throughout their entire optimal laying life that lasts 12 months. You can multiply this by the number of layers in your flock to estimate the total feeding costs for your layers.
In case you find your hens eating more, there is likely some spillage or poor feed conversion. For example, spillage can occur when your chickens eat more when it is cold.
Water is also very critical to the survival and performance of your birds. As we have stated repeatedly, your chickens will never forgive you if you fail to provide them with fresh and adequate amounts of water. It is likely to affect their performance and productivity over the long haul.
During normal temperatures, your chickens will consume more two times more water than feeds. In high temperatures, the water consumption may even triple or quadruple their feed consumption. Always ensure that the birds are sufficiently supplied with fresh and adequate amounts of water so as to ensure good egg production.
The floor space also factors into the performance of your layers. Give each of your layers at least two square feet of space. You can also add some perches where some of the birds can roost at night.
The perches will also concentrate manure at single points that makes cleaning the poultry houses a lot easier. Perches also fill an instinctual need. Chickens have a natural desire to perch so providing this allows them to express their natural behavior which is good for their welfare.
The floor should be covered with wood shavings that will cushion the birds and absorb the moisture. Make sure that you also provide enough nesting areas for the laying birds. The nesting areas should be situated in corners away from the feeders and the waterers.