John G. BROWN
Centurion Poultry, Inc., Lexington, GA, U.S.A.
The profitability of a commercial egg operation rests in large part on the quality of the pullets that they raise or purchase. A good pullet is the most important factor in the onset of production, reaching the target egg size, and maximizing egg numbers. It is impossible to make a good layer out of a poor pullet. The following are some of the more important aspects of pullet management that will help the producer grow a good quality pullet.
The first three days is the most critical time frame regarding the initial development of the pullet. Since the baby chick is unable to thermoregulate its body temperature, the proper environmental temperature during the first few days is necessary to maintain the chick’s body temperature by providing for the chicks thermal comfort zone. The temperature must be maintained between ambient temperatures of 88 °F to 92 °F (31-33 °C). Maximum growth is realized during the first three days when the temperature is approximately 91 °F. Relative humidity levels of approximately 60 % are also important in getting the chick off to a good start.
Many different recommendations are seen in poultry publications regarding feeding the chick first or allowing the chick to get water before feeding the chick after arrival. This is dependent on the system and the experience of the producer. Both approaches can be very successful. Intermittent lighting during the first few days has been shown recently to improve first week liveability by allowing the chick some rest periods during the first few days and also stimulating feed and water consumption when the lights come on.
In order for the chicks to have sufficient room to grow and reach the target body weights with good uniformity, the cages should be stocked so as to ensure that the 17-week-old pullet has at least 44 square inches per bird for white egg pullets and 48 square inches for brown egg pullets. Less space than this can lead to stalls in body weights as the pullet’s age and also lead to poorer uniformity of body weights and frame development.
The process of trimming the beak of a pullet is one of the most difficult services done to the growing pullet. A good job of trimming the beak can help reduce feed wastage, prevent cannibalism, and improve profitability. A poorly performed beak trim can ruin a pullet. The UEP Animal Care Certified program designates that the beak trim be completed by 10 days of age. Blade temperature should be set based on the breed of the pullet being trim, as some breeds handle higher temperature cuts better than other breeds. The use of the term cherry red to determine the correct blade temperature can lead to inaccurate results. A cherry red to in one house may be as low as 700 degrees and as high as 1200 degree in another house. It is very important to use a temperature gauge to accurately measure temperature of the blade for more consistent results. The crew that performs the trim should have plenty of light adjusted onto the blade to ensure an accurate depth of the cut. It is critical to run Vitamin K for several days before the beak trim is started and for the entire length of time the crew is beak trimming the flock.
As another option for beak trimming, there is a process performed in the hatchery that uses infrared energy to “treat” the beak at a day of age. This results in the tip of the beak sloughing off at approximately 7-10 days with little pain to the chick and little detriment to the growth of the pullet.
Body weight and uniformity
One of the best tools that is available for the producer to determine how well the pullet flock is growing is body weight and uniformity. Measuring the body weights of a flock should begin when the flock is approximately four weeks of age and should be measured every other week through peak production. The same birds should be weighed each time and it is important to select cages in various areas of the house representing out bound and return sides is houses with chain feeders, top tier and bottom tier cages and side to side in the house. This will ensure a true average that should reflect the average bird in the house. All birds in each weigh cage should be weighed. The uniformity should be the percentage of birds with 10 % above and below the target of that age bird. Targets for uniformity should be 80 %.
Reacting to the results of the measurements is more important than taking the measurements. If the pullets are under weight steps should be taken to correct this and help the flock reach the target weight. Some of the techniques used to improve weight include increasing feedings, lengthening feeding times in case the feed is not getting to all the birds consistently, cooling the house temperatures down, and adding small amounts of energy to the feed for short periods of time to increase energy consumed. If uniformity is low, it is common to use stacked feedings to improve the lack of uniformity.
The use of the recommended lighting program is also very important to ensuring the timely onset of production and allowing for adequate body weight gains during grow. Each breeder has a recommended lighting program starting at day of age. Making certain that the pullet lighting program is paired with the lighting schedule in the layer house is very important. Never allow a pullet to experience increasing day length before they are ready to be stimulated based on body weight and pullet age. Likewise a layer should never be allowed to experience a decrease in day length as this will result in a loss of production.
The basic nutritional requirement of the baby chick is relatively simple. Most pullet programs are broken up into Starter, Grower and Developer diets.
Some programs are more complicated but basically they attempt to achieve the same results.
The goal of the Starter is to build the early skeletal matrix (frame) of the bird on which the Grower and Developer will deposit muscle and fat tissue.
The Starter diets are generally high in energy and high in protein with about 1 % Calcium and 0.5 % available Phosphorus.
The Grower diet will then slightly lower the energy and protein while maintaining the mineral balance similar to the starter diet.
The Developer diet has the goal of depositing lean muscle tissue and some reserves for the early onset of production. Many programs include a prelay diet that is designed to prepare the pullet for eggshell formation. These diets are generally similar to the developer diets yet with higher Calcium. This higher Calcium increases the intramedullary bone deposition and prepares the pullet for egg production. Prelay diets should not be fed after the birds begin producing eggs. Layer diets should be being fed at first egg.
Vaccination programs should be designed so as not to add additional stress onto the pullet. Combining vaccinations that require handling wherever possible is one way to reduce stress. Proper timing of the vaccinations to reduce or prevent vaccine reactions also improves pullet quality by reducing stress on the pullet. Vaccinate for only the diseases for which exposure is expected or known to be present on the layer or pullet farm. In other words, it is not necessary to vaccinate a flock for M.g. that is going to a known M.g. negative farm that has good biosecurity.
The first 18 weeks of an egg laying chickens life is the most important time of its entire life. During this growing period the foundation for production, liveability and ultimately profitability is formed. Close attention has to be paid to all the activities associated with the pullet period, from lighting to feeding to vaccination to body weight and uniformity. Failure in any one of these areas can lead to poor pullet quality and therefore poor layer results.
From Proceedings of the “Midwest Poultry Federation Convention”, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.