New to farming layer chicken?
Ever thought what it would be like to follow a new layer chicken farm as they take their first steps?
This article was written for you.
By no means is it supposed to be an exhaustive real-life depiction of layer farm management…
But more of an illustration taking you through the operational highlights.
Just the basics, step by step:
What I hope you get from this is:
- becoming conversant in handling layer chicken
- understand the main themes involved in layer farming
- awareness of the KPIs relating to layer performance
Get up to speed with us today.
72 weeks in the life of a layer hen entrepreneur
Let’s say you have already gone through the motions of planning your poultry farming project:
“…haven’t written a poultry farming project report yet?” – Learn how to build your project report.
You’ve managed to set-up your layer chicken operation and are now in anticipation of receiving your first batch of chicks…
Have you ever thought what 72 weeks in the life of a layer farmer might look like?
Then look no further than this example…
And get a realistic gauge for how things might operate for you taking your 1st batch from day one to cull:
Hamid is a newbie layer farming business owner…
Operating from his newly built facility in Chakwal, Pakistan.
With no previous layer farming experience, Hamid began his journey searching far and wide online for guides like our: “How To Start A Poultry Farm: Self Start Techniques For Beginners (2019)”
Whilst getting a firm handle on the operational basics, Hamid consulted our ‘Poultry Farming Profit Calculation Guide’ for deriving earnings estimation.
Before he committed to the idea, he wanted to test the feasibility of the initial idea against project earnings over 6 years…for this he downloaded our Example Layer Farming PDF
On the face of it, his projected future earnings for a 5,000 bird layer farm would be quite prosperous from 2nd year onwards (after restoring his capital savings used for start-up)…
Having read our guide on the ‘Cost of Rearing Poultry‘, Hamid also gained an appreciation of the predominate costs involved…
And also, where the most profitable gains can be made.
Hamid learned that layer chicken poultry feed comprised over 70% of the associated costs of running a layer poultry farm.
As such, he ran some simple mathematical exercises to get an understanding of how many bags of layer feed he would need periodically to sustain his expected output of eggs.
Having a quantity of feed required in mind to feed his flock of 5,000 layer birds…
Hamid was convinced that he might be able to save cost on layer feed cost by assessing alternative options to pellets available in his locality.
Hamid canvassed his local agricultural marketplace to find out more about sourcing ingredients supplies.
Once he has his plan set and has bought all necessary equipment and supplies for getting off to a start, Hamid prepares a schedule for rearing his first batch of layer hens from start (1 day old) to finish (72 weeks).
Kindly, Hamid shares with us his outline schedule for raising his layer chicken over the next 72 weeks of production.
Pre-start layer rearing
Preparing to receive your 1st batch of layer chicks
Before receiving his first batch of layer chicks…
Hamid ensures his farm is prepped to the highest standard for hosting his first crop of day old layer chicks.
His day old chick reception checklist looks a little like this…
- Confirm the arrival time of the hatchery truck on-site at his farm
- …hassle-free transition for his new batch of layer chicken
- Clean and disinfect the layer chicken houses
- 24 hrs before arrival, prepare an internal temperature of layer poultry house:
- 0-3 days = 33-36 degrees C and 60% humidity for best results
- 4-7 days = 30-32 degrees C
- Prep feeder and drinker equipment
- Set up house lighting to 30-50 lux for helping chicks find their way around the new environment (1st week only) – the ideal duration of lighting should be 21 hours or so per day intermittently.
Rearing Period (0-17 weeks)
Management of week 1 old layer chicken (pullet)
1 week old layer chicken have the following care profile and goals:
- Weight: 0.06–0.07 kg
- Feed intake: 14–15 g per bird per day
- Water: 21 – 30 ml/bird/day
- Temperature: 33-36 degrees C
- Lighting: 30-50 lux
- Humidity: 60%
Tips for raising 1 week old brooder layer chicken
During this period of first few days of brooding…
Hamid makes sure he encourages his new layer chicks to eat by scattering their feed on the cage paper flooring.
He keeps a close eye on their feeding habits to ensure they transition well from yolk weaning having arrived newly from the hatchery.
Hamid finds the crop fill method to be a reliable way of estimating if the chicks, by enlarge, are finding their way successfully to feed and water.
If chicks are successfully adopting both feed and water, he aims to find 100% chicks with feed in crop by 24 hours after placement.
To train the chicks to approach the feeders when hungry, he scatters more of the starter feed (…which they will continue eating until they reach a body weight of 190g) toward the feeder position.
He also is keen to moderate the ambient temperature of the brooders.
This provides the most comfortable environment for growth.
For calibrating humidity levels, Hamid adjusts temperature to achieve the most effective balance.
He understands humidity too much or too little can cause deterioration in the condition of his birds, introducing stress and even loss of weight, health or life.
Water for drinking is provided at a lukewarm temperature – for ease of brooder consumption.
Hamid monitors how the brooder birds congregate within his cage system to estimate their level of comfort with:
Image courtesy of: Hyline Management Layer Guide – Hyline
Management of week 2-3 old pullet layer chicken
Within these weeks Hamid continues with his program of administering the first starter feed, as his flock nears the targeted phase 1 starter weight of 190g.
This starter feed blend provides his birds the optimal range of nutritional benefits including (but not limited to):
- 2867–3043 KCAL/KG
- 20% crude protien
- 1% lysine
- 0.45% methionine
Hamid continues to monitor the behaviour of his chicks very closely to assess their transition from hatchery to farm…
In particular, he keeps a keen eye on:
- temperature (28-32 C)
- humidity (minimum 40%)
- ventilation (for the removal of CO2 and reduction in moisture/humidity)
- light intensity (30-50 lux wk 2, then reduced to 25 lux wk 3)
At about day 10 he removes the cage paper for the sake of clearing out waste.
Being careful to comfort his chicks as much as possible, he ensures drinking water is warmed slightly to negate any shock to the birds.
At about day 7, Hamid adopts the practice of precision beak trimming to reduce food wastage and self-inflicted injuries among the birds as they develop.
3 week old layer chicken have the following care profile and goals:
- Weight: 184 – 196 g
- Feed intake: 23 – 25 g per bird per day
- Water: 35 – 50 ml/bird/day
- Temperature: 28 degrees C
- Lighting: 25 lux
- Humidity: 40%
Management of week 4-8 old pullet layer chicken
The remaining weeks of brooding – Hamid primarily aims for consistency with his pullet handling methods & keeping control of the key performance variables.
He sees his progress as being on trajectory for optimal yield of eggs once he crosses the 20 week period.
During these mid-rearing weeks, Hamid ensures the fundamental control indicators are his focus.
Keeping a tight handle on these influential growth and welfare factors will increase his ability to successfully steer his flock into maximum yield.
The following are a few benchmarks on Hamid’s goal checklist for weeks 4-8:
- Weight: 257 – 690 g
- Feed intake: 27 – 47 g per bird per day (increasing with age and weight)
- Water: 41 – 94 ml/bird/day (increasing with age and weight)
- Air temperature: 26 – 21 degrees C (decreasing with age)
- Lighting: 25 – 5 lux (sliding scale, decreasing with age)
- Light hours: 16.5 – 13.5 (decreasing with age along a sliding scale)
- Humidity: 40%
As the birds progress along the course of their growth potential – Hamid keeps an eye on their space allocation.
He knows that sufficient floor and cage space is required to maintain good welfare for the birds. Good welfare equals greatest profits.
Ideal space allocation during these weeks of rearing = 310 cm2 (32 birds / m2)
According to good practice, Hamid examines the flock for the removal of males among them.
He does this during medical care administration.
During this period of 4-8 weeks of growth, Hamid transitions his pullets from the Starter 2 diet to Grower feed.
This is inline with his bird’s changing dietary demands as they grow, gain weight and become more biologically complex.
Management of 8-16 week old pullet layer chicken
These remaining weeks of rearing are the precursor to the rest of Hamid’s flock’s laying life.
Egg production quality and volume will in many ways be shaped by his work to date.
Within these critical development weeks, Hamid keeps himself vigilant for assessing the key body markers.
He knows that musculo-skeletal development occurs as a priority during these weeks.
To ensure his flock is on track for achieving their growth potential, he scores some sample birds for breast muscle development.
He knows that layers which have produced good quality muscle early on (although not too much) will be more able to sustain high egg productivity.
Toward the latter stages of this rearing phase (12-16 weeks), Hamid’s pullets begin slowing down in their rate of weight gain.
This is normal. Why?
Because they finish their bone and muscle production (more dense material), and begin to concentrate the development of their reproductive organs.
Throughout this stage, Hamid maintains the optimal space conditions, within the caged environment, to keep the birds most comfortable:
- floor space – 310 cm2 (32 birds / m2)
- birds per drinker – 1 drinker per 8 birds
- birds per feeder – 8cm per bird at the feeder
Hamid also carefully manages the Calcium particle size during this pre-lay growth phase.
He aims for about 50% course particle size vs. 50% fine particle size.
The following are some standard parameters for birds of the age which Hamid’s have attained:
- 800 – 1600 g per bird weight
- Feed intake: 45 – 82 g per bird per day (increasing with age and weight)
- Water: 68 – 164 ml/bird/day (increasing with age and weight)
- Air temperature: 21 degrees C
- Humidity: 40%
Peak Commercial Laying Period (18-72 weeks)
Management of 17-20 week old layer chicken
So, Hamid’s batch of layers have exited the rearing developmental stages and can now officially be transplanted into the layer house.
This layer building is where he anticipates he will receive his first egg laid.
Secondary biological characteristics are now apparent. Red wattle and comb of the birds.
When taking his periodic weight observations, Hamid notices during these weeks that the weight gain profile of his birds takes a steep incline.
Again, this is in line with the expected trend.
The birds put on weight sharply just prior to officially starting to lay – mainly because of medullary bone deposits.
As his birds approach their mature weight and size, this coincides with them getting relocated to the layer house with more space allocation per bird.
He abides within the floor/cage space guidelines which estimate 20-13 birds per square metre to be sufficient between 17 weeks old until end of commercial laying life
(Note: Hamid has opted for a conventional caged system – his allocated space per bird is reflected in this fact).
As the transition from brooder into the layer house produces a stress event within the care of his flock, he closely monitors their condition, post-relocation.
He measures body weight uniformity and body condition. His target uniformity is 90%.
If he achieves 90% uniformity during these transitional weeks, then all going well throughout the remaining peak production weeks, Hamid should expect to make optimal ROI on eggs.
Hamid takes heed to valuable advice which suggests conformity to a routine as being a great settler of flocks.
Change to the normal routine induces stress – affecting eating, drinking, sleeping and therefore, performance.
He uses lighting as a means of engendering comfort within the flock, by increasing brightness a few days post transfer to the layer house.
Hamid also supplements the flock’s feed with water soluble vitamins days prior and post transfer.
Hamid prunes mortality every day without fail – removing dead birds from the flock immediately. A mortality rate exceeding 0.1% would concern Hamid and he would investigate further.
A general aim of Hamid’s is encouraging his flock to increase in familiarity with their new environment.
This is high up on Hamid’s agenda.
He wants the birds to ease into their new place and behave as they did in the previous.
He sees his role as more care than commerce.
In his thoughts, he knows he should get the right results if he sincerely wants the birds to thrive. If he looks after them, they will look after him – naturally.
Feed consumption enters a steep incline during these weeks. Hamid switched the diet of his flock to a pre-peaking ration for a more complimentary dietary fit.
This continues until his birds reach the threshold of eating 95g/bird/day.
He also adopts a 40%/60% split between fine and course Calcium particles respectively.
The performance profile of his layer birds look like the following during these weeks:
- Body weight: 1.4 kg – 1.73 kg
- Feed intake: 78 – 97 g/bird/day
- Water intake: 117 – 194 ml / bird / day
- Light intensity: 30 lux
Hamid anticipates that any time soon he should receive his first egg.
Management of 21-36 week old layer chicken
Right on time! Hamid and his flock score their first egg. This is a very encouraging day for our new layer farmer.
He has started well and all according to the book – whilst success is never guaranteed, he hoped for a fruitful 21st week.
He got it.
But he is vigilant enough to know it’s not over until it’s really over.
He sets his focus on clearing his 72 weeks of peak profitability with momentum.
His next few weeks, climbing the steep gradient of increasing hen-day egg production to the peak…will require care.
He estimates to hit peak hen-day egg production at about week 26 (~95%). His keen eye on bird welfare and flock uniformity gives him good cause to have hope in reaching his expected 72 week egg production goal.
However, he understands that things don’t always go to plan.
During this early laying period Hamid also witnesses an almost exponential increase in feed demand amongst his flock.
He was prepared for this, however. He knew it was coming and of course had run calculations to know exactly how many bags of feed he required to sufficiently meet flock demand.
Food consumption ranges in this period between 90-115g per bird per day. Hamid has his birds on a peaking ration feed with increased particle size according to age.
He has closely monitored the flock’s adjustment to the increase in food particle size.
He didn’t want there to be an oversight on his behalf where his birds would lose ground on growth due to poor uptake of increase particle size.
Hamid continues feeding his flock the peaking rations to support them getting over the hump of their most challenging growth phase.
He wants to hit peak production precisely, so that his ROI throughout the peak laying life of his hens is optimal.
He keeps a close hand on the temp control to ensure consistent feeding and watering.
Humidity is kept to a 40% minimum to minimise moisture, yet not too low that they become distressed or dehydrated.
Having taken note of a little lesser than ideal egg shell quality, Hamid considers techniques for marginally increasing Calcium absorption in the hens.
He comes across some advice on midnight feeding programs for layers.
The theory states that Calcium absorption in hens happens most effectively at around midnight. Thus switching the lights on at around midnight works to encourage the birds to feed – the idea being they increase Calcium uptake.
The hen-day egg production of his flock reaches goes from 77-96% during this period of laying.
Management of 37-72 week old layer chicken
Hamid knows that over the following 35 weeks, his flock will need consistent handling in order for him to reap the fullness of the fruit of his labour.
Anything less than optimal yield he will consider to be unrealised profits.
He put the flock on a sliding scale of Calcium particles from 60%/40% (fine/course) to 25%/75% in line with age.
His flocks hen-day egg production gradually falls off from 96%-78%, as per the norm – again in line with age profile. Maximum hen weight is achieved of about 1,800g per layer…weight increase ceases at about 32 weeks.
Hamid’s egg collection, day to day, gave him consistent touch-points to monitor the welfare of his birds 1st hand.
His birds (knowing him) were comforted by his presence and lived out their production weeks without stress.
On completion of his course with this first batch, Hamid had much cause for reflection writing up his summary of events and lessons learned.
All in all it was a profitable run, with his hospitality clients in the city benefiting from consistent supply of hen eggs.
Hamid made back his capital start-up expenses, breaking even.
As for doing things differently with the next batch, Hamid notes an micro-economic trend of increasing demand for free range eggs in his region. The market’s desire is for higher quality nutritional content.
Hamid considers adopting free range layer farming practices to meet this increasing demand.
It would mean land redevelopment to accommodate these more liberal farming practices.
He would also need to adapt his farming methodologies and techniques significantly which in itself introduces risk. Because he lacks the experience of free range layer farming – he is hesitant.
He feels he would need to sit down and calculate the potential financial advantages to be gained vs. the costs of transitioning his current cage farm to free range layer farm.
After consideration, he feels the trend of demand for free range, is strong enough to warrant drafting a feasibility plan.
As for his first flock of layer hens, Hamid kept them til the 72nd week of laying. According to his calculations, they wouldn’t be profitable to him beyond this.
Hamid decides to cull them and sell their carcasses as spent hens for sale at his local market.
This spent hen culling exercise earns Hamid further returns at the end of his layer farming cycle.
Meanwhile, he has another flock of pullets who are waiting to occupy the layer house vacation of the previous occupants.
Hamid is now fully-fledged in his layer farming occupation. He has gained much confidence in rearing layers from this exercise.
Over to you…
Are you interested in layer chicken farming?
Has this short story of sorts encouraged you to dig deeper into the subject of layer farming?
If so, we welcome you to visit our project knowledge base to compliment your understanding of layer farming techniques.
For a more business based start-up perspective on poultry farming read our “How To Start A Poultry Farm Guide”.
As for this guide, we hope you gained enough of a practical insight to be able to see yourself in such a situation.
For 1-to-1 help to assist you with your upcoming or current layer farming project, feel free to get in touch.
Pullet Layer Management Guide – New Life Mills