How to take free range layers up to 100 weeks


Genetics and a personalized nutrition program have helped two Herefordshire farmers successfully lift the cycle of laying their flock of free range chickens beyond the UK average of 72 weeks.

As long as everything works well, 100 weeks is definitely achievable, believes Nick Panniers, who cultivates with his father, Allan.

“The end of the cycle is where you get the most profit; that’s when you earn the money to cover the cost of the chicks, “he says.

See also: 4 key factors of poultry management influencing egg size

The Saddlebags produce 64,000 Dekalb Whites eggs at Wellington Farm, Bishops Frome, changing brown layers in 2018 in response to a new supply contract.

His existing packer, Stonegate, had asked the business to supply white eggs for Waitrose’s essential farmyard brand.

In response, they obtained white birds from Hendrix Genetics.

After visiting farms stocked with Dekalb whites in the Netherlands, they were confident that the breed would last longer in their system than the typical 74-week cycle they had with Brown Lohmanns, although they had initial concerns that Dutch systems are primarily farm-based, while yours It is free field.

Nick and Allan saddlebags

Nick and Allan saddlebags

“That was a huge point of difference to consider, but we found that white birds perform extremely well in the open field,” says Nick.

It initially set a depopulation target of 90 weeks, but increased it to 100 weeks to supply the Christmas market.

“Because the chickens were lying well, we agreed to go ahead and did so with very little trouble,” says Nick.

Her second rate increased to 12% at week 85, but this was due to an infectious bronchitis challenge.

“That hit them a little bit, so without that we think we can improve our second rate this year,” says Nick.

He admits that the practicalities of when to depopulate are a consideration.

“This year, if we run out at 100 weeks, it will fall in August when we are busy with the harvest, which does not suit us very well, so perhaps we will have to run out a little earlier to balance the work a little. ”

The challenges of the longest laymen

One of the challenges of keeping flocks longer is maintaining consistent performance. Nick says the system is set up to relieve pressure from the birds.

“We have to make sure that everyone involved is singing from the same hymn sheet. Routine is very important, we always pack at the same time, we feed at the same time. “

Four ways Wellington Farm increased the age of exhaustion and maintained productivity

1. Genetics and vaccination.

Through breeding and selection programs, there are now efficient laying hens with increased laying persistence, along with acceptable quality and number of eggs.

Saddlebags pay around 5% more for white birds, but they say this cost is balanced by the breed’s resistance and longevity.

Their chicks are fully vaccinated against Newcastle disease, Marek’s disease, egg drop syndrome, salmonella, infectious bronchitis and also against E. coli due to a challenge on the farm.

2. Nutrition

Helping the bird retain good quality eggshell for a longer laying period requires specifically designed nutrition.

The batch is run on a four-stage diet, with a high but constant energy structure in all rations to reduce consumption and minimize stress in birds when presented with a new ration.

Farm nutritionist Tom Lander of Lloyds Animal Feeds devised the feeding program. He says taking birds to 100 weeks is “a marathon, not a sprint.”

“The really large early egg size will make the 100-week program unfeasible,” he warns.

The feeding strategy is as follows:

Beginning of the lay ration
This is 18% protein to help birds recover from the stress of traffic and increase body weight as they enter the posture.

5% puts ration peak
The crude protein level drops to 17%, but fiber levels rise slightly to 5% and calcium to 3.75%.

Mr. Lander says that the fiber content is designed to help slow digestion so that the stool becomes drier.

“Layers that get on very quickly can get stressed out easily and your stool can become quite loose,” he says.

Extra calcium is important as the laying rate of birds increases.

“We give the bird every opportunity to absorb the correct amount of calcium to reduce second quality eggs,” says Mr. Lander.

Post-peak ration
Once the birds have maintained peak production for several weeks and the quality and size of the egg are appropriate, the amino acid profile is slightly reduced, particularly for methionine and lysine, to prevent the eggs from growing too quickly.

This diet is 5.5% fiber, combining digestible and non-digestible elements, with supplementary dry alfalfa bales used in housing.

Home grown oats are milled on the farm and included at 5% after 35 weeks, increasing to a maximum of 8% later in lay.

The content of oyster shell and limestone is increased every 10 weeks to reduce the depletion of calcium in the medullary bone and help its transfer to the digestive tract.

Post 75-80 weeks
The eggs begin to decrease in quality but increase in size, putting pressure on the bird.

To handle this, this diet is lower in lysine and methionine, while 4.5% includes the maximum level of calcium that birds can usefully absorb and digest.

  • Crude protein is 15.5% and fiber 6%
  • Periodic analysis of food grown at home.
  • At 12-week intervals, wheat is tested against objective specification requirements
  • The completed feed analysis is also analyzed to ensure you are at the correct specification

This policy pays off, says Mr. Lander. “We had some wheat samples where the protein was a little bit higher than we expected, so we went to the balancer to account for that result.”

This ensured that they were not over-supplying the bird with crude protein and that the amino acid profile remained in line with target levels.

3. Management

Birds fly when they arrive, which can make weighing and stock management a challenge. But the Saddlebags and their ranchers, Gary Morgan and Jackie Dorrington, overcome this by weighing before the lights come on.

White birds pick up good and bad habits in no time, says Nick.

“They quickly learn to climb the system at night and to the nests, but they also learn to lay eggs on the floor, so you have to be on the ball.”

The morning routine is consistent with the birds walking every morning at the same time to verify feeding, water, and any changes in behavior. Birds are not disturbed in the afternoon.

Dim lighting regimes help control egg size and quality at the end of lay. “We run the sheds a little bit darker to keep the birds calmer,” says Nick.

4. Water quality.

The water is analyzed every 12 weeks. If it is high in bacteria, with a Total Viable Count (TVC) greater than 100, an acid is applied and flushed through the drinking line. However, they consider that anything above 50TVC is undesirable.

Water is particulate and UV filtered for each home to help further reduce TVC. “This keeps TVC low on the farm, this solves a lot of the production puzzle,” says Lander.