The importance of good pullet management

The importance of good pullet management

The rearing of the young pullets is an essential phase on a layer farm. Optimal management of chicks and pullets ensures optimal egg production and a healthy and productive layer flock. In this newsletter the good management practices will be discussed and two common diseases which relate to pullet management, prolapses and cage layer fatigue, are highlighted.

Management and nutrition of young pullets should be aimed at reaching an optimal bodyweight. The optimal bodyweight depends on the type of laying hen and can be found in the key figures of the breed. Mostly it falls between 1.35 and 1.65 kg at the start of the egg production.

It is advised to adjust nutritional management in order to reach target bodyweights at 6, 12, 18, 24 and 30 weeks of age. During these weeks of age, the birds should be weighed and the bodyweight should be compared to the standard bodyweight of the breed. If the bodyweight does not fit the standard, adjustments to the diet are needed. 

Apart from standard growth rates, uniformity of the flock is also a key factor in rearing pullets: When the pullets are moved to the laying facility, uniformity of hens in a cage should be at least 90%.

Feather pecking
The rearing phase is also the designated period to take preventive measures against feather pecking behaviour. Avoid stress, dim the lights when birds look excited, formulate diets according to the requirements, reduce stocking density, add enrichment materials to keep the birds occupied, remove injured, sick, dead and aggressive birds as soon as possible.

Transfer to laying house
Birds are transferred to the laying facility at an average age of 15 to 16 weeks. This transfer is a stressful event for the pullets, so care should be taken to ensure a smooth transition. Some weight loss after transfer is, however, inevitable. Using the same water and feed systems in rearing and laying facilities helps to reduce stress. Keeping the lights on for the first three days after transfer will help the birds to become familiar with their new environment. Keep track of the water intake of birds during their first hours in the new facility by installing a water meter. Proper water intake is crucial for good feed intake. A few days before and after transfer, additional care in the form of nutritional support (vitamins, like Stress Aid wsp) may be given. The transfer to the laying house is also a good time to check the health status of the birds, register their bodyweight, and remove male or sick birds.

Diseases that can be prevented by proper rearing of pullets

Prolapse is a very difficult issue to resolve when it’s already there. Many causes of prolapse originate in the rearing period of the pullet, so it is very important to bear this in mind when the pullets are growing up.

When a hen lays an egg, the lower part of the hen's reproductive tract (oviduct) is turned inside out along with the egg. This allows the hen to lay an egg without coming into contact with faecal material. Sometimes the oviduct does not immediately retract back into the hen once an egg has been laid. This condition is known as prolapse. If noticed early, the oviduct can be gently pushed back into the hen. If not noticed immediately, other hens will pick at the protruding oviduct, damaging it and preventing it from retracting.

Prolapses can occur when the eggs are relatively too big for the chicken, or when the cloaca is damaged (for example by infection or cannibalism).
Many of the causes of prolapse originate in the development phase of the pullets. 
Important risk factors for prolapses are:

  • Hens start laying too early in their lives (before 17 weeks)
    • Light stimulation may have started too early in the rearing period
    • Light intensity in the barn is too high; 15-16 hours of light every day should be the maximum. The brightness should be max. 40 lux in an open barn, or 20-30 lux...

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