Preparing the breeding flock to move to the laying house
We recommend transferring the birds between 16 and 18 weeks and once the vaccination program has been completed (at least one week after last killed vaccine). The birds should have time to become familiar with the new environment before they start to lay. If the feed and water systems used in the rearing and the laying house are similar it will help the birds make a smooth transition. The same light program as in the rearing house should be applied. Good communication and coordination between the rearing and the laying house is necessary to synchronize flock management. It is good management practice to visit the pullets several times during the rearing period. Complete the vaccination program before transfer. When possible do not administer vaccines during the transport of catching processes.
Stocking density in the laying house
The bird should have enough space, especially in hot climates. Important is not only cm² of cage floor/bird, but also the height of the cage and how many cm of feeder and how many drinkers are available per bird (a minimal recommendation is given in Table 1).Keep in mind that overstocking has a strong impact on mortality, body weight and uniformity, feathering status, fertility and, finally, in hatchable eggs and chicks per hen housed.
Table 5: Stocking density at production house *These recommendations should be adjusted to meet local regulations.
Transfer to the laying house
- Low light intensity
- Trained staff
- Careful bird handling
- Gently but quickly
- Skilled Driver
- Clean and disinfected transport
- Optimum stocking density
- Meeting current local regulations
- Clean and disinfected
- Equipment properly working
- Water and feed available
- 24 h light first day
Transport should be planned well in advanced and all staff involved should be informed. The crew must had been without contact to any other birds at least 2 days prior to the job (best to transport breeder after a weekend). Withhold feed for a few hours before loading but continue to provide fresh water. Transport equipment should be in good condition and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The staff in charge of handling and moving the birds should follow the biosecurity regulations, wear clean clothing and footwear that have not been exposed to poultry. Choose the best time of the day for transportation (especially in hot climates)
Load quickly but with care and maintain an adequate stocking density in the transport trolleys. Continue ventilating the house during the procedure. The staff should be well trained and should handle the birds according to animal welfare regulations, catching and holding the birds by both shanks. Ensure enough ventilation for the birds between loading and unloading.
- Load females and male breeders separate from each other (see male’s management chapter for more details).
- Select any defective or unthrifty birds, and also birds that get into poor condition (males/females).
- Remove all the remaining sexing errors at this time. Sexing errors that remain in the flock will impair the genetic potential of resulting commercial stock. In addition, sexing and color sexing accuracy of commercial chicks will be adversely affected.
Transport time should be as short as possible, avoiding unnecessary stops. Avoid moving the birds during the part of the day with more extreme temperatures, or when climate conditions could have a negative effect on the birds.
In all cases:
- Do not catch hens by one wing or one leg or the neck.
- Do not overstock transport trolleys.
- Do not leave hens in trolleys in sunlight or unventilated areas.
- Do not load trolleys in closed and unventilated trailers.
Hens will lose some weight during the transport depending on the duration and the temperature. This loss will be quickly recovered if the housing conditions are correct.
When to move the birds?
Housing in the laying house
Applying an “all-in all-out” system is recommended to break disease cycles and improve the health status. The laying house should have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in advance. The transfer should be done as smoothly and quickly as possible to allow the birds to be well prepared for the start of laying. The temperature in the laying house should be between 18 and 24 °C. Cool water and feed must be available when the pullets arrive at the house.
In cage-free houses advise to use open water cups or 360 nipple drinkers. The drinkers should be at the right height and work adequately. Encourage the birds to drink – low water pressure in the drinker lines on the first days. During the first days check frequently that the birds are drinking. Adapting to a new drinker system could be difficult (especially if pullets have been reared with a different type of drinker). If water consumption does not increase in the days after housing, or it fails to reach normal levels, corrective measures should be taken at once.
Try to follow the same feeding program as used at the end of rearing. Feeders should be filled when the pullets arrive so it is easy for them to locate the feed. Also encourage the birds to eat by running the feeding lines more frequently. If pullets are reluctant to eat after a couple of days, monitor feed and water consumption. Important is don’t run feeders during the daily peak of production, to prevent hens moving out of the nests. Pay attention to the male’s adaption to the new feeders and drinkers. Fully combed males may have problems to eat if the feeders are not adapted for them (grill).
In family cage houses a 24-hour light can be set during the first day, so the birds can become familiar with the new environment. After that, set the rearing house light program if possible. In floor systems, use the same lighting program that was set in rearing. (Cage-Free) and make the dimming period at the end of the day manual for the first days, to train the breeders to find their way into the system. In this type of system is important, for the first 7 to 10 days after transfer, putting the birds to bed to prevent piling. Light intensity can be a little higher during the first week (20 lux) to encourage hens to explore the house. Avoid “light-shock (big step in light intensity between rearing and production) preventing stress and overstimulation. Ensure a good light distribution to prevent dark spots that can impact on bird’s behavior and to prevent as well, floor/system eggs at the start of production.
Weight lost during transport should be recovered in the first days in the house. The birds should continue gaining body weight and maintain a good flock weight uniformity to achieve a good start to production. Keep weighing males and females weekly. Sometimes the females are gaining weight according to standard, but males have problems. This could happen when they weren’t dub treated and have issues with the feeder’s grill.
Observe the behavior of the birds carefully and take actions if needed.
KEEP IN MIND
- In floor houses and aviaries, always check that the number of males per partition is the adequate.
- In family cages, after completing the unloading always check the number of males and females per cage.
- No vaccinations during transfer when possible.
Bad distribution: Males are too dominant
and aggressive towards females
- too high male/female ratio
- too much difference in body weight
- males sexually matured earlier than females
Make a plan for a good distribution of the breeders in each cage, or in barn/aviary in every compartment and place the right numbers of males to keep the normal male/ female ratio. Accommodate (separate) the extra males in a pen/cages as soon as possible. This is to avoid possible aggressive behavior from males to females! During housing is the last time to make a good selection of males and discards the ones with poor quality. When you have experienced male’s aggression in the past a recommendation in barn/aviary systems is to start with 3–4 % males. After 5–7 days, you can slowly bring in the additional males step by step during the night. Bring in 2 % males every week until you reach the right numbers of males. Do this during the night to avoid stress in the flock. Having perches in the production house, help to reduce the social stress and the aggression on females. Always is better to divide the house in compartments and place equally number of breeders per section. When well managed, this help to improve male:female behavior better
feed distribution and less dirty eggs.
Well maintained nests are critical for a good start.
The breeders should not be allowed to have access to the nest boxes too early. Advise to open the nest boxes 1–2 weeks before the onset of lay. Note that in aviary systems with one-line nest boxes, the birds need more time to find them! Open the nest boxes 3–4 hours before start of day/lighting program, and close about 1 hour before end of lighting program.
New and clean litter
Be sure that litter material is there in time the breeders start using the litter area in barn/ aviary houses.
Different materials may be used:
- Wood shavings
- Cellulose pellets
- Coarse wood shavings
Regardless of the litter material used, it should be hygienic! A litter level depth of 1–2 cm is sufficient. Litter material should preferably be distributed after the house is pre-heated, and when the breeders have been housed. This prevents the formation of condensed water between the floor and litter. Keep the level of litter low and dry during whole production period!
- Transfer the birds at least two weeks before the onset of lay (no later than 18 weeks).
- Only transfer flocks that are healthy and in good condition.
- Plan transport in advance and organize it well to ensure optimal comfort for the birds and biosecurity.
- Avoid transferring flocks during high temperatures. Transport by night if necessary.
- Monitor the body weight before and for the weeks after transfer to guarantee that the flock is developing correctly.
- Closely monitor water and feed consumption during the weeks after arrival at the laying house.