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The Importance of Phase Feeding in the Modern Layer

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the use of early lay diets for long periods of time or in some cases, for the duration of lay to produce a greater number of larger eggs. This practice may result in achieving short term market requirements, but it will have negative effects on production in the long term. To ensure our modern layer reaches optimal performance throughout its production cycle, it is critical the bird's nutritional demands are correctly met. The use of phase feeding is best practice to ensure the bird's nutritional demand are correctly met to achieve optimal productivity and longevity of your flock. 

Phase Feeding 

As birds progress through the production cycle their requirement for nutrients significantly changes. The start of the laying period is a crucial moment for hens. After transfer from the rearing house to the laying house birds are still growing rapidly. At this stage, the skeleton and in particular the medullary bone is being fully formed. At this stage, feeding a Prelay diet will have the following well defined benefits:

  • Aid the development of the medullary bone before the first egg. 
  • A Prelay diet bridges the gap between the lower calcium rearer diets and the more calcium 
  • The correct establishment of the skeleton at this stage will help the bird to maintain its productive capacity and longevity of the laying cycle. 

18 - 30 weeks

At around 18 weeks, if birds are on target for body weight, they should be moved onto an early lay which is designed to be fed from first egg to peak production. This early lay diet should be fed until about 30 weeks of age; however, this will vary from flock to flock based on body weight and feed intake. This diet is designed to achieve peak production and establish egg size. Early lay diets are high in energy, amino acids, essential fatty acids and contain higher levels of phosphorus and lower levels of calcium compared to mid or late lay diets. This ensures that birds achieve optimal nutrient supply during this time of high nutrient demand. 

30 - 60 weeks

Layers - laying hensAs the bird gets older, egg size should be established, during this time the bird’s requirement for energy, protein and phosphorus declines and the requirement for calcium increases significantly. At this point birds should move onto mid lay diets. A mid lay diet is designed to meet the birds’ requirements for this stage of production, 30-60 weeks of age without driving excess body weight therefore maintain production efficiency.

It is essential before moving onto mid lay diets or indeed any change in diets birds should be weighed to ensure they have an adequate body weight and feed intake over a period of weeks, to reduce the risk of production dips. Ideally the transition of moving from early to mid-lay diets should be done by mixing the initial loads of feed to ensure a smooth transition. Mid lay diets will also have an economic saving for the producer. If birds are not moved onto mid lay diets the excess nutrients that they do not require, at this point of production, will be laid down as excess body fat or excreted as waste.

55/60 weeks

After 55/60 weeks of age birds should be moved onto a late lay diet which is specifically designed to support eggshell quality. At this stage of production, the bird’s natural calcium reserve is in decline and needs to be supported by the diet to ensure prolonged shell quality. Feeding late lay diets at the correct time will prolong good eggshell quality in turn reducing the number of class B or lower standard eggs. This will ensure optimal longevity of the flock is achieved, reducing early depletion of a flock resulting in a greater economic reward for the producer.

Tips for phase feeding –

  • The most critical time to measure body weight and feed intake is at or around planned diet changes.
  • Birds should only be moved to the next stage diet if body weight and feed intake is on target.
  • Initial mixing of feed loads at diet change will help ensure a smooth transition between diet changes.

Summary -

  • Feeding birds correctly to meet their changing nutritional requirements throughout the laying cycle is critical to achieve optimal production and longevity.
  • Phase feeding will ensure the birds correct nutrient requirements are being met at the correct stage of production.
  • Phase feeding will allow producers to maximise egg size, productivity and ensure good eggshell quality to prolong the laying cycle.
  • Phase feeding will ensure the greatest economic reward for producers.
  • Single diet feeding throughout total production cycle is less economic, results in more waste and has a higher carbon footprint per kg of eggs produced.