A largely misunderstood technicality in the rearing of layer hens for profit is:
It’s yet again another physiological hurdle to cross in your race to egg production profits.
But handled well,
It can lead to profit improvement,
Rather than profit interruption.
This study showcases a method for doing exactly that.
Ever come across hen molting before?
About layer hen moulting
It’s a natural physiological process in which laying hens (adults) will shed all feathers and cease to lay(!).
It occurs approximately once a year – and it’s a way of nature allowing the hen to replenish her feather coverage…and stay airborne/safe.
The cost of moulting
Whilst it has it upside for the hen, just like any process which gives benefit…
For the hen, it costs nutritional reserve to replace lost feathers.
Nutritional expense diverted to feather production must come from somewhere.
And in the case of moulting, the opportunity of new feathers…
…comes at the cost of egg production, for a short period.
The timing of moulting
Interestingly enough, this entire process tends to happen in the Autumn.
And closely mirrors the equivalent process within trees,
Where they shed leaves in an effort to gear up again for maximum productivity next year.
In chickens, moulting amounts to a similar thing.
It actually improves the subsequent cycles of productivity.
Moulting – the technical points to remember
That said, there are some technical difficulties to observe:
- approx. 12 weeks downtime if your flock are good layers
- purchase of point of lay hens to fill in the production gap (but fewer to buy next batch)
- environmental stressors can induce moulting
- moulting occurs spontaneously – perhaps irregularly
- you still have the cost of feeding moulting hens good quality nutrition during their moult (plus PoL hens, if you buy them)
So, what is the commercial layer farmer’s response to this uncertainty?
Inducing (forcing) the moult
This is when layer poultry farmers force or induce moulting to occur in their flock at a time of their choosing.
And by doing that, better controling their management of the occurence.
But how EXACTLY does a layer farmer induce moulting in his flock?
By physiological stressors.
When birds become stressed for prolonged periods, it can thrust their bodies into a cycle of moulting – forcibly.
One common method that farmers have adopted to achieve this has been feed withdrawal.
This naturally puts laying hens into moult phase.
However, the method has come under fire mainly for 2 reasons:
- animal welfare (food deprivation)
- nutritional depletion (undercutting future productivity)
Alternative to feed withdrawal
So, what are the alternatives?
That is exactly where this study fits in.
It provides an alternative to the feed withdrawal method of moulting, giving birds…
…adequate feed and nutritional intake whilst STILL forcing them to moult.
In this study, the researchers used Alfalfa as a layer feed substitute to replace the hens usual feed.
Alfalfa being “…insoluble, high fiber feedstuff with low metabolizable energy,” left the hens incurring a dietary stress – yet in a healthy way.
The stress of having a significant dietary shift – led to the hens being forced into moult.
But how does the Alfalfa method fare against:
- feed withdrawal?
- fully fed?
The Alfalfa method produces:
- an earlier moult, just as with feed withdrawal hens
- less body weight loss that feed withdrawal hens
- higher egg production than feed withdrawal hens – equivalent to fully fed in medium ration mixes
- higher albumen height than fully fed hens
In summary, moult induction using Alfalfa rations – speeds up premoult transition and improves post moult egg prodcution and egg quality.
You’ll have to calibrate the most advantageous balance of Alfalfa vs. layer feed.
But once you achieve a good mix – this practice should literally pay your layer farming business back in greater returns.
This is great news for areas where the natural occurance of Alfalafa is already high.
It works out very economoical.
To view this study in full, click this link: