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The basics of chicken farming (in the tropics) Part 3 of 4

By goGreen | November 22, 2011
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6.1 What should have been done before breeding starts?

At the end of the growing period of the breeders the following matters should have received attention already. When the production of hatching eggs has started, it is too late for these measures:

1proper vaccinations

2. debeaking; female breeders should have been debeaked
3 6-8 week selection; in meat-type birds the smaller males and females are removed at this stage
4 mature selection; just prior to the onset of egg production, males and females of poor quality are removed from the flock
5 if sexing errors are discovered, remove the birds concerned immediately, at any time
6 internal parasites; if worms were present during the growing period, an effective eradication programme should have been carried out – allowing the birds to start their breeding period free of worms
7 Mg, Ms and Pullorum negative; just before or immediately after egg production starts, the cockerels and the hens should be bloodtested
8 correct mature body weight

Again, the above should have been done or accomplished during the growing period. REMEMBER: ONE CAN HURT, BUT NO LONGER HELP A 21-WEEK OLD CHICKEN!

6.2 The importance of correct body weight
Breeder birds should have the right body weight when they reach sexual maturity; therefore they should be weighed, at least every two weeks. In particular, medium size and meat-type birds have a tendency to develop too much body fat. For these types the body weight should also be controlled during the period of egg production.

Good body fleshing but without excessive fat is desirable for the following reasons:

If the breeder birds are fed to appetite during their growing period, they may be too heavy at sexual maturity and may not produce the possible maximum number of eggs during the laying cycle.

Feed allocations should be made with the aim  of obtaining the recommended body weight for the particular type of bird concerned. There are no set rules: follow the instructions of the breeder of the birds.

To check the body weight, females should be weighed once every two to four weeks during the laying cycle. Weigh a representative sample of the hens in each pen. Weigh a sample of the males too.

6.3 Measures to improve fertility

About 4 weeks before reaching sexual maturity (i.e. at about 18 weeks of age), the males should be placed with the females. Do this late in the afternoon, as this will reduce fighting; fighting will occur for about half an hour in this case, until sunset (the next morning it is over).

Too many males in the breeding pen reduces fertility; not enough males has the same effect. The ratio is about 1:10; slight deviations may be useful depending on the breeds involved, as is shown in the following table (indicative only).

A few extra males should be placed in the pens at the time when the cockerels are introduced to the hens, to allow for some early culling and mortality from fighting. But remove them as soon as the flock seems to have come to rest.

Light during the egg production period stimulates the production of eggs and also increases the quantity and the quality of the semen of the males. Apply a specified lighting schedule.
6.4 Hatching egg production
The only purpose of keeping breeding birds is to produce an abundance of hatching eggs that will give a high percentage of quality chicks. The following management practices are important for the production of hatching eggs:

Nesting material
Hatching eggs are valuable and egg breakage is costly. Therefore abundant nesting material should always be available. It should have the following properties: absorbent, durable, coarse so that it will not easily be blown from the nest, dust free, good cushioning quality and inexpensive. Useful nesting materials are wood shavings, groundnut hulls, rice husks, chopped corn cobs, straw and hay.

Floor eggs
The breeder hens should be trained to use the nest rather than the floor on which a high percentage of the eggs laid will be broken. Floor eggs are also less suitable for hatching. To induce hens to lay their eggs in the nests:

Collecting hatching eggs
Hatching eggs should be collected from the nests at least 4 times per day; in extreme temperatures 5-6 times per day. Frequent collection decreases breakage and helps to maintain the hatching potential. It is important to collect the eggs that are laid late in the afternoon on the same day. Hatching eggs left in the nest overnight will lose some of their hatching qualities.
Suggested time schedule for the collection of hatching eggs, under a natural daylight programme:

Close the nests at night and open them again early in the morning, before egg production starts. Do not allow hens to sit in the nests overnight and remove any hen found in the nests, to prevent broodiness.

Egg containers

The hatching eggs should be fumigated as soon as possible after collection. Storage time should be as short as possible. At 2-3 days after laying hatchability decreases. For short periods (up to 4 days) hatching eggs should be stored at 18-20 °C. For longer storage periods, the eggs should be stored at 18 to 14 °C; longer than ten days at 12 °C. Try to maintain a relative humidity of 80% or more.

Selection of hatching eggs
Hatching eggs should be first-class, fertilized eggs. There is no way yet of checking the fertility before incubation, but the practices outlined below will help to eliminate possible failures.

There are specific egg-weights for each type of chicken according to their production season, but in general a hatching egg should weigh between 52 and 70 g. Handle hatching eggs carefully because they are costly!


Breeding birds should produce parental immunity in chicks. To produce a constant degree of parental immunity it is necessary to  revaccinate the breeder females for Newcastle Disease and Infectious Bronchitis at intervals of 12 weeks during the laying period. See Chapter 8 ‘infectious disease and their prevention’.

6.5 Guidelines for the selection of breeding stock
The selection of males and females for future breeding stock should be based on the relative economic importance of each characteristic that is considered in the selection process. Every hen selected for breeding purposes should be carefully examined.
The following is a list of desirable characteristics:
1 physical

2 egg production

3 egg quality

The above characteristics can most easily be checked by trapnesting the birds. An individual check for each bird will give information. Trapnesting for 3 consecutive days per week gives enough information. The other 3 days can be used for trapnesting another flock or for doing any other job. This will save time and labour. Trapnesting is usually done over a period of 300 days. Checks every 4 weeks and individual hen recording will give sufficient information.

4 hatchability

Incubation and hatching records will give information.

5 viability of growing stock and layers

Any bird still present at the age of 12-15 months will have a rather high resistance to diseases and/or other unfavourable conditions. The collection of eggs for future breeding stock should therefore not start before this age.

6 meat production

Body weight at 6-8 weeks of age gives a good indication of the weight of the offspring later on. There is little correlation between body weight at sexual maturity and the weight of the offspring. Selected birds (at 6-8 weeks) should be checked at marketing time (9-14 weeks) on the following characteristics:

Each of the above characteristics has to be taken into consideration on the basis of its relative economic importance. For instance, selection on (a) has hardly any economic value and (f) is only important for meat-type breeders. Note: the selection on feed consumption and conversion should be taken into consideration too, but these are very difficult to measure on the individual bird.

6.6 Recycling of the breeder flock
Breeder flocks used for the production of hatching eggs are often force-moulted and ‘recycled’. The reasons for doing this are:

Force-moulting can be achieved by one (or a combination) of the following methods:
1 Water withdrawal for one or two days, after which water supply is restored and then withdrawn for another two days. Not to be practised during hot weather.
2 Feed withdrawal for several days, or feeding an unbalanced ration (feed grains only).
3 Light withdrawal in environmentally controlled houses, well below 11-12 hours per day.

Any one (or a combination) of these methods will  create stress in the birds, causing them to drop their feathers and lose weight. Hopefully not many of them will die.

After two days of depriving the birds of water and/or feed, a return is made to a skip-a-day programme (one day feed, the other day water) which is continued for one week. After this a normal, controlled (restricted) feeding programme. After 60 days the light may be stepped up to 14-16 hours per day. Egg laying will resume.

Force-moulting a flock and recycling is only worthwhile if the quality of the flock is excellent. Only birds having desirable characteristics should be used.

In most cases it is advisable to add new males to the breeder flock because they are more fertile.

Note: it should be kept in mind that force-moulting is a difficult technique and it should not be taken lightly. In a tropical climate moulting can quite easily take place accidentally too! For instance because of a heat stroke, watering failure or a sudden change in feed quality. Accidental moulting always means a very serious economic loss.

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Topics: Agri-Business, Farming Methods, Poultry | Comments Off

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