With conferences, meetings and industry events on hold in the face of COVID-19, Hy-Line UK is keeping producers in the know with regular webinars. The first series was a three-part programme entitled 'Unlocked Potential' which looked at extending the laying period to 80 weeks and beyond.
In part one, Dr Ian Rubinoff, Director of Global Technical Services for Hy-Line International, told the virtual audience that data collected by Hy-Line showed that the best flocks were achieving over 380 eggs to 80 weeks. When deciding whether a flock is a suitable candidate for extended lay, key considerations include bodyweight at 18 weeks. "Flocks with above target bodyweight at 18 weeks have been shown to be the most prolific when it comes to egg numbers. Consideration must also be given to any disease issues that could impact on production or shell quality and your feed mill needs to be flexible enough to manage the nutrient changes required to help shell quality." said Dr Rubinoff.
For producers concerned that keeping birds longer may mean heavier eggs and subsequent deterioration in quality, this is unlikely to be the case, said Dr Rubinoff. "Hy-Line Browns will reach 60 grams average egg weight between weeks 25 and 27 and 64 grams between weeks 30 and 40 depending on management and nutrition. The bird will reach an optimal egg weight at an early stage and then remain at that level. Even long-lived birds have little issue losing control of egg weight."
Feathering was another consideration when thinking about extending the laying period and the audience were shown a fully-feathered flock of Hy-Lines nearing 80 weeks. "Not only can producers feel great pride with a flock looking like this, but it is also saving them money in feed costs and the avoidance of pale-shelled eggs during the summer months. Good feathering is an important indicator of welfare and will lead to higher scores during audits," added Dr Rubinoff.
Nutrition was the theme for part-two of the series and was delivered by Hy-Line's Global Nutritionist Marcus Kenny. When it came to 'Nutrition for Persistency' the three main objectives were to achieve persistency in lay, meet target egg weight and maintain eggshell quality. Again, the emphasis was on bodyweight at 18 weeks, with the aim being to achieve 1520 grams as a minimum. It was equally important to develop body condition from 16 to 18 weeks when the breast muscle should become convex at this stage, scoring a two to three muscle score, ideally along with an abdominal fat pad of 1.0 cm, explained Mr Kenny. "Muscle contains amino acids and energy reserves important for egg production and layers lacking proper muscle development are less likely to sustain high egg production. The bird won't achieve mature bodyweight until 30 to 32 weeks so the diet must account for growth as well as production during this period."
Energy intake is key, said Mr Kenny, and producers should accurately monitor feed intake and then calculate the energy intake. "The shape of the production curve (percentage hen-day) is changing and egg mass is continuing at higher levels to older ages so don't move to a lower density diet prematurely," was the message.
It was also important not to decrease amino acids too aggressively as lay progressed. However, calcium levels should be increased whilst reducing phosphorus. When it comes to limestone in the diet the level of course particles, a percentage of the total limestone in the diet, should be increased from 60% in early lay to 75% in late lay. "The larger particle size (two to four millimetres) remains in the gizzard for longer and releases the calcium more slowly," Mr Kenny told webinar participants.
"Sixty to eighty per cent of calcium for shell formation should come from the diet," he went on, "and the greater proportion of eggshell calcium derived from bone stores, the poorer the shell quality. We don't want calcium drawn from structural bones. However, the medullary bone will be used by the bird to supplement mineral requirements during egg shell calcification and that's why it is important the medullary bone is built up prior to lay. Feeding a higher mineral density diet, such as a pre-lay diet, is advisable prior to the onset of lay.
The third and final webinar was delivered by Dr Greg Celliers, Hy-Line's Global Veterinarian, who focused on preparing flocks for extended lay. He began by reminding the audience that depleting flocks whilst egg quality was still good was a waste of genetic potential. "By extending the laying period your cost per egg will fall, you'll be lowering your environmental footprint and it will lead to more efficient utilisation of resources such as land, buildings and equipment," said Dr Celliers.
With a major portion of the bird's genetic potential being determined in the first 20 weeks of life, the brooding and rearing period is of utmost importance and getting chicks off to a good start was essential. "It's vital to monitor feed intake and chick weight," said Dr Celliers. "Within six hours of placement, 75 per cent of chicks should have food in their crop, rising to 85 per cent by 12 hours and 100 per cent within 24 hours." Dr Celliers recommended starting chicks on a crumb which would lead to a quicker, easier uptake and a more even intake of nutrients. But the crumb needed to be the correct size, one to three millimetres, and if too large the chick would struggle with intake. As for monitoring bodyweight, the recommendation was to weigh 100 chicks individually on a weekly basis starting from when the chicks arrive on the farm.
From six weeks the young pullets should be on a good quality coarse mash which would assist in increasing gut fill capacity. "It will also help increase gizzard activity which in turn will lead to increased acid production leading to better digestion. That will leave less nutrients available for unwanted bacterial growth such as Clostridium," explained Dr Celliers. When it came to lighting levels, the recommendation was for 30 to 50 lux at chick level during the first week, reducing to 25 lux between weeks two and four and between weeks five and six, levels should be at 10 to 15 lux. During bird inspection though, levels should be increased to 30 lux. "Socialising the birds to humans is essential for success of the flock. Walk noisily and briskly among the birds," advised Dr Celliers, who said that socialisation and learning for chickens is primarily between the age of three and eight weeks. "The most important skill for a cage-free hen is learning to jump. Pullets are naturally curious and will jump onto objects to explore. The challenge is getting 100 per cent of the pullets to jump."
The layout of the rearing house was important in this respect. "All water lines should be on raised tables. If the bird does not need to jump, certain individuals will not learn the skill." Raised feed and water lines should be available from three weeks which will incentivise the chicks to jump. "Equipment in the rearing house should match that in the laying house," emphasised Dr Celliers, who went on to cover pullet immunisation in his presentation. He concluded: "Stop thinking of the pullet as a cost, it is an investment for extended lay."
A Q&A session following each presentation proved popular, where the speakers, joined by panel members from Hy-Line UK, were able to interact with the audience. With Hy-Line leading the way as the first UK breed company to support their customers in this way, up to 175 delegates logged-in for each of the webinars. Those registering also had access afterwards to a recording of the presentations plus a certificate of participation. Commenting afterwards, Hy-Line UK's Managing Director Omead Serati said: "These are unprecedented times and with 'normal life' on hold, the webinars have proved a successful and popular means of sharing knowledge with our customers and the wider egg industry. It is our intention to make these a regular event."
For details of upcoming webinars visit www.hyline.co.uk or follow Hy-Line UK on LinkedIn.