We are yet again in the season when layer farmers are placing orders of day-old pullets to re-stock a coops after a long period of unintended rest, follo-wing months of influx of eggs from Uganda. The good news is that the price of table eggs has improved from lows of Sh240 to highs of Sh280 to Sh320 per tray. At the moment, poultry farmers in Uganda are enjoying low cost feed production due to vibrant rain fed agriculture. With that reality, to stay in business, Kenyan farmers need to observe these criteria:
1. Body weight profile during rearing
The first five weeks of a chicken’s life is critical as this is the period of organs development. The kid-neys, heart, liver, spleen and lungs are in an exponential growth and increase in size if the environment and nutrition are provided in adequacy. You should target a weight of 380-400 grams per bird. This is achieved by selecting a good balanced star-ter diet and feeding adequately for eight weeks. Between the age of six to seven weeks, skeletal development is initiated, while gastro-intestinal tract is fully developed at 10-16 weeks of age, you need to target a weight of 830-870g at 10 weeks and 1355-1410 grams at 16 weeks just before point of lay. A good grow-er will give you those weighs, if not, consult your feed supplier for assistance.
2. Uniformity of the flock
Provide enough feeders and waterers all the time. This will ensure 90 per cent of your birds are growing within the standard curve and hence will come into production at relatively the same time.
To start a flock, feeder lids or plastic feeder trays (on per 50 chicks) should be used. Feed should also be spread on paper placed over the litter, covering 40 per cent of the floor. Gradu-ally remove the feeder lids or trays, replacing them with the adult feeders. By the time the birds are two weeks (14) days old, all the lids and trays should have been removed. Raise the feeders gradually as the birds grow. Always ensure the top lip of the feeder is at the same level with the bird’s backs.
3. Increase Feed intake capacity
Some farmers think that once the pullets come into production, they can relax and look foward for more eggs. But this is far from the truth. Layers continue to grow until 30 weeks of age. This means feed intake must be increased steadily at point of lay. A farmer must train birds to eat more feed between week 10-16 by practising what we call ’empty feed technique’. This involves feeding 40 per cent of the daily ratio in the morning, allow the birds to completely clear the feed empty and stay for I to 1.5 hours without feed, then feed the other 60 per cent in the afternoon. This allows the birds to consume all the fine feed that contains the minerals, premix and amino acids need for growth and development.
4. Beak trimming
Trim the beak of your birds at 10-12 days old using an electric pedal operated de-beaker machine and done by a qualified operator. Do not delay beak trim-ming beyond 16 weeks. Some hatcheries do this operation at the hatchery using infrared light. This will reduce cannibalism and feed waste.
5. Lighting and sexual maturi-ty
Provide enough 24hours lighting from day one to day seven with-out introducing darkness and ensure you weigh 10 per cent of the birds to make surecthey are attaining the target liveweights (380-400g at 5 weeks for layers). Never introduce darkness if your weights are below target for slow growing birds (layers). Gradually intriduce darkness from day 11 to attain natural day length by week 6. Increase day-length at 16 weeks gradually over 2 weeks period to 16 hours of light to stimulate maturity in preparation for egg production.
6. Flock health and welfare
Always provide clean portable water throughout the growing period for maximum producti-vity. A recent vaccination prog-ramme covering all diseases at risk in your locality is paramo-unt in ensuring the benefit of great genetic potential of your birds are released. Work closely with your local veterinarian to ensure your flocks are complete-ly immunised aganaist Newca-stle, Gumboro, Fowl typhoid and fow pox diseases.