Maintaining winter egg production

Many factors must be accounted for

10 July 2019 | Agriculture

Poultry is affected by seasonal changes. During winter, birds tend to consume more feed and drink less water, while the opposite is true in summer. Weather changes, particularly cold months, can affect the productivity of birds. Laying birds are more susceptible as the rate at which they produce eggs drops drastically, disrupting cash inflows. Poultry farmers are therefore advised to plan properly to safeguard their profits during this challenging time. The most common concern for many poultry farmers is determining how to maintain constant egg production during the winter season to sustain profits and take advantage of high egg prices in winter.

It should be noted that under natural conditions egg production is highest during summer and lowest in winter. This is because the longer days in summer expose birds to lengthier periods of daylight, which stimulates egg production.

On the contrary, the shorter winter days depress egg production. Day length or lighting periods are therefore crucial as lighting affects the anterior pituitary gland, which stimulates or depresses egg production. However, the ultimate success or failure of an egg enterprise relies heavily on the flock management skills a farmer possesses.

This article seeks to articulate aspects that poultry farmers should be aware of when approaching the winter season and how best to maintain optimum egg production during the winter season.



Shorter days

Research shows that sunlight directly influences egg production in laying birds. Therefore, longer days of sunlight can enhance maximum egg production. Generally, laying birds require 16 hours of lighting to lay well. Farmers are therefore advised to add artificial lighting facilities to supplement natural light. It is however worth noting that despite the importance of lighting to laying birds, farmers are advised not to leave lights on all night, as laying hens need to sleep and rest for optimum production.

To this end, it is recommended that artificial light be turned on in the early hours (for example, 02:00) to ensure a 16-hour lighting period and eight hours of darkness for resting. Lighting can be controlled manually or where possible, a timer can be installed that can switch off and on as necessary.



Moulting

Moulting refers to the natural process of the shedding of feathers and regrowth. Once the amount of daylight reduces, it signals to the bird that it is time to rest and replenish. In general, the natural time for moulting is April and May, to allow laying birds to regrow new feathers to insulate the body during the cold winter season. Laying birds that go through the moulting process divert nutritional elements e.g. protein, energy etc., to feather regrowth instead of laying eggs. This leads to a decline or total halt in egg production.

The moulting process can last up to eight weeks; however, it can be prolonged to 12 weeks and beyond in poor layers. Thus, vitamin supplementation and proper feeding (including high-quality feed and balanced diets) are recommended to accelerate the moulting process.



Low temperatures

Low temperatures can cause an overall lower laying rate and a decrease in the total number of eggs produced per hen. It should be noted that colder weather demands more energy from birds. Thus in winter, most of the feed goes to energy production to keep the bird's body warm, rather than egg production. Farmers refer to this scenario as 'feeding with no return'. Farmers are therefore advised to feed high-quality feed and increase the feeding allowance per bird by at least five grams. Under normal conditions, the feeding allowance per bird is 110 to 120 grams. The allowance therefore can be increased to 125 grams per bird.

Increasing feeding the allowance can be seen as an additional cost; however, it is a worthy investment in order to maintain constant egg production.

In conclusion, farmers should take note that there are other factors that can contribute to a decline in egg production. Such factors include aspects such as age, inconsistent water supply, poor diets, sickness and more.

However, naturally reduced egg production is a common challenge in winter, irrespective of the good health of a bird.

It is therefore vital for farmers to reduce cold stress by providing vitamin supplements (e.g. stress pack, Vitaforte), ensuring proper feeding, maintaining 16 hours of lighting and supplying fresh water for their poultry birds consistently. This is key to maintain constant egg production throughout the entire laying period and ensure a consistent and reliable supply of eggs to customers.

*Emilie Abraham is a technical officer within Agribank's Agri Advisory Service Division



Emilie Abraham