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How To Rear Parent Flocks for Peak Production

How To Rear Parent Flocks for Peak Production

Broiler breeds such as the Cobb500 are selected to efficiently convert feed to body weight. Therefore, it is important in rearing parent flocks to understand how to feed the birds correctly right up to peak hatching egg production. The following is part one of a two-part series that outlines the proper management practices for each of the five phases of breeder development. 

Phase 1: Day 1 to 4 weeks of age

This is a very critical period for development of organs and physiological systems, including the immune system, and requires optimal brooding conditions. Regardless of the feed type and feeding program used, achieving the standard body weight through the weekly target weight increment is a top priority, as well as a good vaccination program, providing protection against prevalent field viruses (mainly respiratory), bacteria (mainly mycoplasmas, Salmonella and E. coli) and parasites (mainly coccidia).

 However, biosecurity can be more important. The most successful facilities in disease-prone areas or during an outbreak are those that use two showers in and a shower out system, in addition to complete clothing and boot changes.

Phase 2: Week 5 to week 12

This phase is known as the uniformity correction period. This can be achieved and maintained through careful feed intake and body weight management. Birds should be selected individually between the 3rd and 4th week and regrouped into target weight, underweight and overweight categories. Birds will then have equal access to feed and water to grow homogeneously. The birds should not be disturbed by daily or biweekly selection unless the uniformity is <80%.

This is the only chance to correct the average body weight of the flock until 12 weeks of age where 95% of their skeletal development is completed. For the heavy group, the minimum weekly feed increment per hen should be 1 gram. Never reduce the feed intake. For the underweight group, a maximum of 10% over feed increment per week per hen can be administered; otherwise, birds can get obese with a small frame causing mating problems with males in the laying period.

Minimum feeding space should be 10 centimeters per hen for chain and no more than 13 females/35 centimeters in diameter round pan. We are limited in our ability to correct over/under feeding issues after 12 weeks of age.

Phase 3: Week 12 to Week 16

The main target of this period of development is to retain good uniformity of body weight and frame, and to ensure hormonal development without fleshing. By now, 95% of skeletal development is achieved, so there is no way to correct frame size further. Regrouping the homogenous birds together gives birds with similar weights and frames an equal chance for feed intake and allows them to maintain a good uniformity, leading to maximum egg production in the laying period. Hormonal development will need minimal, but good quality nutrient intake.


We follow a conservative feeding regimen with a +/- 3 grams weekly feed increment per hen depending on feed density, season, health status and vaccination program. Feed space per hen should not be <15 centimeters on...

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