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Extending the Life of Layers

When considering the current global economic and environmental challenges the focus is currently on sustainable production and return on investment. 

The average depletion age of commercial laying flocks in the UK and ROI is 76 weeks with a decline in egg numbers and shell quality deterioration cited as the main reasons. These birds are essentially healthy and if their egg production cycle can be lengthened without loss of shell quality there are significant welfare as well as economic benefits to be gained. 

Extending the laying phase has several benefits including more efficient utilisation of resources, a reduced carbon footprint, reduction in pullet depriciation and substantial financial benefits. 

Offsetting the rearing period against the extended laying cycle results in a reduction of the carbon footprint. Less feed per egg, fewer vehicle movements and less brooding all contribute towards improved sustainability. 

The financial benefits are a result of an increased number of eggs per bird and costs saved from a reduction in the required number of clean outs and replacement pullets required.

The persistency in lay however cannot be achieved without knowledge and consideration of the bird's physiology and how she can be supported and helped to develop the her full laying potentialwhile allowing her to maintain production levels and continue to produce a high quality robust shell. 

Challenges to the bird vary depending on the age, stage of reproduction, management system, the presence of physiological and environmental challenges such as disease, (heat)stress, high ammonia levels etc. 

Maintaining production for an extended period does not come without risks. It is imperative to be aware of the warning immunity status, gradual increase in egg size and reduction in shell quality as the hen gets older. The focus from the beginning of the pullets' life needs to be on providing her with the neccessary support to make an extended laying cycle achievable. 

By understanding both the physiological and nutritional needs of the hen we can prepare her for a long and productive life allowing you as a producer to take advantage of the ever-improving genetic potential of the modern commercial layer. 

The part played by the microbiome - the intestinal microflora, is becoming better understood both in animals and people. The benefits of a balanced and stable microbiome are found in an improvement in general health and a well-developed, competent immune system. 

Bird health management has become an integral part of the overall farm management and more attention is being given to management and support of the intestinal microbiome.

With years of experience in seeding the avian gut with the most beneficial bacteria and supporting the growth of these in preference to less favourable bacterial species to facilitate colonisation the team has developed a great understanding of how the bacterial flora in the gut can influence welfare and productivity. 

Aiming to provide sustainable, holistic, farm specific and cost-effective strategies and solutions through tailored advice to help your flock reach its full potential and extend the laying cycle.

Many studies have shown that the presence of favourable bacteria in the intestinal tract can significantly improve resistance to pathogen colonisation. By ensuring the intestinal environment is suitable for the growth and replication of the beneficial bacteria, the ‘healthy’ microbiome can be sustained.

The gut is the first port of entry for a variety of external pathogens and forms an important barrier between the outside world and the internal bodily systems. When unstable, the gut can be a source of systemic toxins and bacteria due to leakage through the intercellular junctions of the gut lining following the reduction of the barrier function offered by the tight junctions. These junctions can be amongst others affected by stress, (myco)toxins and mechanical challenges occurring in the gut. These toxins and bacteria become blood borne and can lead to a systemic infectious process (septicaemia). Disease and stress cost the hen energy, potentially leading to a loss in productivity not to mention the potential expense of therapeutics.

It is important to appreciate that during the hens life the nutritional and physiological needs change significantly with the growth requirement only being present for the first few weeks at the onset of egg production.

Attention to detail, good management and nutraceutical support can provide the follow-on support required for the extension of the laying cycle.

headshot photo of Dana Simpson - St Davids Poultry TeamFeel free to contact me if you wish to find out more about the possibility of extending the period of lay beyond 76 weeks.

Dana Simpson