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If you are raising your chicken for the eggs, then it should be a huge concern when they stop laying eggs. It will be a huge loss for you, even if you are running a small backyard chicken farm. It may means spending too much money on feeding and getting nothing in return. If you are raising your chickens as part of an enterprise, you will certainly be incurring losses.
But chickens not laying eggs anymore may also point to something more serious such as a sudden bout of infections affecting your flock. As a farmer, and as part of your day to day management of your farm, it is important to keep track of the number of eggs laid by your chickens so that when there is a sudden drop, you will know instantly.
Chickens may stop laying eggs for a number of reasons. However, it is still possible to make a “recovery effort” and return them to their peak performance. So don’t rush out just yet to buy your eggs from the supermarket.
Here is a look at some of the common reasons why your chickens are not laying eggs anymore:-
This is the most common reason why your chickens may stop laying eggs. Something could be wrong with their diets. Look at your feeding routine and determine if you have recently changed anything or even the brand of your regular feed mash that you are presently feeding your chickens.
Changing the diet can lead to a drastic drop in egg production or even cause your chickens to stop laying altogether. Farmers generally see a sudden drop in egg production within a very short period of time if there is an issue with the diet.
Whatever you are feeding your chickens must also be well balanced as this will ensure their bodies will be well nourished to enable them produce eggs optimally. If your layers are struggling to lay eggs, consider adding snacks that are rich in protein content like mealworms, oats and pumpkin seeds.
Water is also very important for the chickens that lay eggs. If your chickens have no access to fresh water throughout the day, the egg production will begin dropping sharply. As we have stated in a previous post, chickens rarely forgive if you fail to supply them with sufficient water and the production is likely to drop sharply.
Sometimes, your chickens may be getting the right diet and right amount of water but still not laying due to insufficient light. For your girls to lay plenty of eggs, they need lots of NATURAL daylight exposure. At least 14 hours a day of exposure is ideal though you can extend it up to 16 hours for optimal exposure.
During the winters when your chickens have less exposure to lighting, it is advisable to supplement the lighting with some artificial lighting for optimal laying performance. You can simply put artificial lighting in the chicken coop and set up some automatic timer to switch it offer after a set number of hours. This will help keep your egg production high. However, during the winters, your chickens also need plenty of rest so that they can recover the following year so it is not always advisable to push them to the limit.
Your Hens are Broody
The egg laying performance can also go down considerably if your chickens are broody. They may be well fed, have plenty of fresh water and good exposure to sunshine but still fail to lay eggs if they are exhibiting broodiness. A hen gets broody when it wants to hatch its own chicks. There are various ways through which you can break the broodiness so they can continue laying. Alternatively, you may simply sell them or give them away when they become broody so you can acquire a new batch of pullets.
Some of the signs of a broody hen include the following:-
They can sit in their nest boxes for the whole day.
The hen becomes territorial and will get aggressive at anything getting close to her eggs.
The hen will shed off the breast feathers so she can give the eggs the heat from her body to create conducive condition for hatching.
If you are involved in commercial poultry egg production, then you have probably heard a lot about egg grading.
The grade of an egg normally depends on the amount of air that is contained in the interior of the egg cell along with the density of the yolk and the albumen. If the air cell is small, it will have a rounder yolk and a firmer egg white and this will mean a fresher egg. A fresher egg generally has a higher quality grade.
But you might have noticed from your supermarket shelves that the grade of the egg also depends on the source or how it has been raised. The “cage-free” or free range eggs generally have a AA grade while a pasture raised egg will most likely have a grade “A”. This has to do with the quality of the egg and the production environment.
Pastured eggs are generally regarded as more nutritious and of better quality than eggs from the caged birds.
The main weakness of the commercially farmed eggs is that they have a small air cell by the time they reach the processing area. This is because the barn where the chickens lay their eggs is generally on the same property as the centre where the eggs will be processed.
The air cell is small for eggs that have just been laid and taken to the next door for storage. The grade AA will be granted to these kinds of eggs irrespective of their nutrition content. In this case, the “quality” refers to the freshness of the eggs.
Passing the eggs through multiple procedures will end in they being graded as A. This is because it has taken longer to take the eggs from the barn or nesting areas to the processing centre. The extra days that it takes to carry out various kinds of processing such as hand-held collection, packaging and transportation will allow more air to gather in the cells of the eggs thus losing their grade. They will thus be of a lower grade.
There are also grade B of eggs. These do not just meet the right standards. They might be smaller in size, have abnormal sizes and with no limit of the size of the air cells in the eggs.
The grade of the egg generally has nothing to do with its nutrition. It has everything to do with its size and freshness or more generally, the amount of time it took to process the eggs before being taken to the market.
The poultry farming industry is currently on schedule in meeting its targets when it comes to the limiting the use of antibiotics. Industry data shows the sale of antibiotics is currently at its lowest level since 1993 when data recording began.
Between 2014 and 2016, there was a 27% drop in their usage with 2016 recording the lowest level of antibiotic use in 24 years.
Over the same duration, there has been an 83% drop in the demand for the antibiotic Colistin. This is usually the antibiotic of last resort for various critical animal health and even human health infections. The industry has no doubt played a critical role in the eradication of widespread and sometimes indiscriminate antibiotic usage through proper disease control, stockmanship, stewardship as well as proper training on animal biosecurity.
The total sales of active ingredients have dropped significantly over the past few years and it has now reached the recommended 50mg/Kg. In 2016, antibiotic usage had dropped even further to 45mg/Kg.
Other sales that have gone down include those of fluroquinolones, which has dropped by 29% over the past one year. The sales of the third and fourth generation cephalosporins have also gone down by 12%.
Perhaps the most encouraging progress has been the reduction in the use of antibiotics in poultry meat. This has reduced from a high 48.8mg/Kg in 2014 to 17.1mg/Kg in 2016 showing that poultry farmers have been taking aggressive steps to cut down on the use of antibiotics in their concerns. In the turkey production sector, the usage of antibiotics has also dropped from 220mg/Kg in 2014 to 86.4mg.Kg in 2016, another drastic drop.
On the other hand, the use of Fluroquinolone has gone down to just about 0.1 tonnes. The third generation Colistin and cephalosprins seem to have been phased off from the poultry meat industry. There is no evidence of their usage in the industry.
This spells a huge success in the global war against Microbial resistance in the poultry industry and the animal meat farming industry in general.
There has also been increased openness in the sector that has encouraged all players to come out and share best practices with one another. This has in turn helped cut down the use of antibiotics by 71% over the past 4 years. Over the same period, the poultry meat industry has grown by 11%. It is an encouraging effort in stamping out the use of antibiotics.
The integrated nature of poultry farming industry in countries such as South Africa has also helped in the speedy implementation of antibiotic control measures. However, the biggest impact has been the general industry drive as well as ambition to significantly stamp out the indiscriminate use of antibiotics.
Moving onwards towards 2018-2020, the poultry industry is working hard to cut down the use of antibiotics even more by cutting it to 25mg/Kg in the poultry meat sector and 50mg/Kg in the turkey production industry.
Antibiotic-free meat products is the future and the efforts and the success of the industry in realizing this aim has been quite encouraging.
If your poultry farming enterprise is geared towards egg production, then a broody hen is the last thing that you probably want. They mean trouble and a drastic drop in your fresh egg supply.
Broodiness is also contagious. If one hen is broody, the behavior is likely to spread throughout your flock making matters even worse. That is why you need to make a quick intervention and break the broodiness as quickly as possible so that the hen can revert to normal behavior and continue laying eggs.
What Causes Broodiness in Hens?
A broody hen is one that wants to hatch its eggs. Instead of just laying the eggs and going about its business, it wants to sit on them and hatch them into chicks. A lot of farmers may not want this if there poultry production enterprise is geared towards egg production. Broody hens will cut off your supply of fresh eggs.
A hen getting broody may also mean that it is getting older and is maturing. It can also be due to seasonal changes such as longer days which stimulate the production prolactin, a hormone from the hen’s pituitary gland. The combination of this hormone and the sunlight will make the hen go broody and it will begin sitting on its eggs. A broody hen does not just sit on its own eggs, it can also steal other chicken’s eggs.
Signs that Your Hen is Broody
Broody hens will generally make a nest in a quiet and dark area inside or outside the chicken coop. They will subsequently spend all their time instead that nesting area and rarely come out to eat or even drink.
If there is no straw or sawdust, the chicken will begin carrying them and using them to line its nest. Sometimes, it can go as far as plucking the feathers beneath its breast in order to keep its eggs warm.
Broody hens also develop a very bad “attitude”. They begin grumbling and growling at anything that comes close to their nest. If you move close enough to their nests, they may even get a bit more aggressive and peck at the intruder.
Broody hens also fluff their feathers so that they appear bigger and look more threatening. Their tail feathers will fan out like the feathers of a turkey, another aggressive behavior meant to ward off disturbance.
They may occasionally leave the nest to go and eat, poop and drink some water but they won’t last. They may be back to the nest as soon as possible. During their broodiness, there is very little by way of nourishment, so they lose weight pretty fast. If they are your favorite egg producers, you will have to be really worried when they become broody.
The hen’s feathers will also lose their sheen and the droppings will become larger and foul smelling. The hen will be clucking insistently whenever they take a break from their brooding nest and go out to look for food or drink.
How to Stop a Hen from Being Broody
You can stop a broody hen in various ways ranging from removal of the hen from the nesting box to putting the chicken in a cage jail where they can stay until the broodiness stops. Below is a look at the various techniques you can use to stop your hen from becoming broody:-
This is the most commonly used technique and simply involves removing the hen from the nest and stopping it from re-entering the nest until the habit is broken. Simply pick the hen up and plonk her into the yard where the other chickens are foraging. You can give the hen some treats in order to keep it outside. Remember she still very aggressive at this point so you may need to wear gloves as she may peck your hands.
Some farmers recommend putting the hen under your arms and walking with it around the yard. To make it effective, you may have to repeat this routine several times in a day. Remember it is your will against the hen’s hormones and your will has to win.
If removal does not work, move on to the next step:-
Close the Nesting Area
If removal does not work, you can simply close off the nesting area. Block off or close off the area that the hen has chosen as their nesting area. She will struggle to reopen and access it and if she fails, she may decide to get out of her broodiness. Also watch out on her next move as she may decide to “steal” another hen’s eggs if she is unable to access her nesting area. If you have several hens that are laying at the same time, you may have to block off all the nesting places at the same time.
Use Cold Dips and Frozen Water Bottles
This has worked for some farmers. In this case, simply remove the eggs and put cold or frozen bottle of water under the hen while she is sitting. The extreme cold will stop their impulse to brood. In case you don’t have a frozen water battle, you can simply dip the hen in a cool bath. Use this technique only if it is warm outside. Don’t use it in cold weather.
Get Rid of the Nesting Material
In case you have small flock and the above techniques are not practical, you can simply get rid of the nesting material to stop them from brooding. Getting rid of the nesting material deprives the chicken conducive environment for expressing their broody behavior and she is likely to give up the behavior.
Use a Chicken Jail
This is simply a makeshift jail where you can confine the chicken for a few days until it stops its broody behavior. It is simply a small wire cage with sturdy design. Put the hen inside with some food. Don’t put any bedding in the cage.
Broody hens are generally difficult to handle. They get all puffed up and give out the annoying clucking sound. The hens behave as if they have been seized by a kind of madness. All that matters to them is laying that egg and doing it quick!
When chickens go broody, it is almost as if they have been seized by some craziness. All that matters is laying on their eggs, whether the eggs are fertile or not. Leaving the eggs in the nest will make the chickens, in turn, to want to stay longer in the nest. Sometimes, they will continue staying in their laying nests even after you have removed the eggs. A chicken that is noticeably broody will lay on any eggs it finds even if they do not belong to her.
In a commercial poultry production operation, you wouldn’t want your hens to go broody as this will seriously have an impact on egg production. However, in a small backyard poultry farming enterprise, broodiness can actually be advantageous allowing you get new cute chicks without investing in an incubator.
If the eggs are fertile, they will take about three weeks to hatch after the hen has started sitting on them. But the hen will be in a broody condition for a very long time even after the eggs have hatched so you may need to take some action in order to break the broody behavior.
The hen is unlikely to come out of the broodiness unless there is the stimulus of the chicks coming out and prolonged broodiness has a severe impact on the health and productivity of the bird. Incubating hens do not generally eat much so they will get thin very fast and this in turn affects egg production.
In case you want chicks, broodiness can actually be advantageous for you. You can simply buy fertile eggs and pop the eggs under the hen in their nesting box. Within three weeks, you will probably have a fairly good hatch rate.
Broody chickens generally need a quiet nesting box as well as a safe place where they can raise their chicks free from predators and interference by adult hens. You will also need to provide them with some water and starter food.
However, in case you don’t want the chicks, broodiness can actually be a big nuisance and this will necessitate urgent intervention on your part in order to stop the behavior. There are even certain hens that may be prone to broodiness so they will be doing this all the time even when they shouldn’t.
Breaking the Broodiness in Your Hens
The most effective way of breaking broodiness is by keeping the hen away from their nest. Do this repeatedly and they will simply snap out of their broodiness. Other hens can be more persistent, however. You can prevent them from accessing the nesting box by simply blocking it off once the other hens have laid their eggs then as the darkness falls, you can unblock the nesting box once more.
The hens will generally come out of their broodiness within about three days although for some hens, it may take quite a struggle.
Hens that are persistent brooders will simply find an alternative place where they can brood. This can be an enclosed area, a form of shelter or even in the shrubs.
Use a Broody Cage
Where you are grappling with a persistent brooder, you can use a broody cage which will effectively stop their broody behavior. A broody cage can be a simple enclosure with a roof, four walls and shields which can be made from wire mesh. Provide them plenty of water and food inside the brooding cage.
A good example is shown below.
Keep the hen in the broody cage for as long as possible until you are sure that you have been able to break the broody behavior. Once the broody behavior stops, the hen will begin laying eggs once more. Don’t be too mean and leave the hen in the cage for too long; you should be able to break their “broody will” in about three to four days.
You can tell they have broken their broodiness by observing their behavior: they will be sitting instead of standing, their feathers will be sitting flat and they will stop making the clucking sounds and begin making normal sounds.
However, if she still runs to the nesting box after you have returned it to the coop, then you may need to put them in the broody cage for a little bit longer.
Most of us eating chicken meat aren’t even concerned with whether the meat comes from a male or female chicken bird. The simple answer is that the meat chickens can be both male or female.
Both the male and female birds can be raised for meat. This is unlike in the egg production industry where you will rely on the female birds. In the meat production industry, both are equally valued. The main difference between both industries is that the meat chickens are generally not raised in cages like poultry layers.
Additionally, the meat chickens come from a completely different breed than the layers. These are generally breeds that have evolved over generations of selective breeding into prolific meat chickens.
On the kitchen table, it is not possible to know if the meat you are eating is from a male or female chicken. They both look the same and taste the same. In reality, we eat both in almost equal proportions. Roughly 50% of the meat we consume is from male chickens and the other half from female chickens.
Are male and female chickens grown differently?
Do they also look different? In the free range production systems, it may be possible to tell the physical differences between your male and female birds. However, in conventional poultry production systems, both chickens are grown together in the same barns and under similar conditions. It is therefore impossible to distinguish male and female birds, especially when they are still very young. You will certainly not be able to tell them apart when they are one day old.
As the chickens grow older, you will be able to tell them apart. This is especially from the age of 30 days when their physical differences begin to emerge. By the time the meat chickens are being collected for processing, it will be very easy for you to tell which of them are male and female.
The male chickens generally have meatier breasts with thicker legs and feet. They also have wattles and combs that are brighter, bigger and more noticeable compared to their female counterparts.
The male chickens also grow a lot faster than their female counterparts so if you have the chickens of the same age, the bigger ones will tend to be the male chickens. Due to this, the male chickens generally produce more poultry meat than their female counterparts.
The bottom line is that if you are raising chickens from the same bred for the meat, chances are that there are roughly equal numbers of males and females in the flock.
Chicken is probably the most loved dish. So what is great about it? What are some of the good nutritional benefits of eating chicken?
The most important benefit of chicken is that it is a great source of high quality protein with low fat levels compared to other types of meat such as beef and pork.
There is a misconception that the chicken meat does not have a high density of proteins compared to other sources such as red meat. However, this is not actually true. The protein content is virtually the same for all kinds of meat including pork, beef and lamb: at about 22%.
Here are other key facts about the nutritional content of chicken meat:-
Chicken meat is generally low fat compared to other meats. Depending on the condition in which the chicken raised, the fatty acid content can be even lower. For example, meat from chicken raised in free range conditions generally has a lower fat content than that from chickens grown in an enclosure or factory environment.
Chicken meat also has lower saturated fatty acid content compared to other types of meat.
Chicken meat contains all the important vitamins and minerals but chicken meat is advantageous due to its higher niacin content. This is an important nutrient that is necessary for energy metabolism.
However, it is important to keep in mind that different cuts of chicken meat will have varying nutrient profiles. This is especially the case when it comes to the fat levels on the chickens. Most of the fats on the chicken meat is stored on the skin so the cuts that are eaten with the skin still on or those that have a high proportion of skin like the wings or breast fillets will likely have a higher fat content.
If you don’t want much of the fat, you can remove the skin and trim off the surplus fat from the chicken meat before you consume it to cut down on the amount of fat intake.
The leanest part of the chicken meat is the breast meat and represents about 41% to 49% of the edible parts of the chicken meat. In some countries, only the breast meat is harvested for consumption and the rest is recycled or dumped.
There are several other reasons to consume chicken meat:-
Chicken meat is the most affordable lean meat currently available in the market so it is a fairly affordable source of high quality proteins.
Chicken meat is highly versatile and also easy to cook. You can prepare chicken meat in numerous ways; there are thousands of recipes to choose from.
Chicken meat is generally popular with the whole family. Almost everyone eats chicken meat. You can therefore easily include it in the whole family meals.
There are plenty of myths floating around on the safety of chicken meat. Here is a look at some of the common myths, especially those surrounding raw chicken meat:-
Myth #1 The Raw Chicken Must be Washed Before it is Cooked
This is not a must especially if know the source of the raw chicken meat. In fact, the raw chicken meat doesn’t have to be washed before it is cooked especially if it has been processed in a clean and professionally run facility. This is always the case with the chicken that you purchase from the supermarket shelves.
The modern processing conditions for chicken meat will guarantee that the chicken reaching your fridge or cooking table has very little bacteria left on it. Rinsing the raw chicken meat with clean water does not necessarily reduce the amount of bacteria in the raw meat; in fact it increases the chance of chicken juices contaminating other foods, utensils and the cooking surface. Washing actually increases the chance of cross-contamination and which can cause a host of food borne diseases.
Myth #2 The Risk of Food Poisoning is Gone Once the Food is Cooked
This is true. If the raw chicken is cooked well, the risk of food poisoning is fully eliminated. However, that may not be the case in case cross-contamination happened. For example, if the chicken juices were dripping on other foods, especially those that are eaten raw, then you are still likely to be affected by food poisoning.
After cooking the chicken, make sure you clean out every item that came into contact with raw chicken meat including the chopping boards, towels, knives and your hands. If you stored it next to other foods that are eaten raw, make sure these are thoroughly washed. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly; we can’t emphasize this enough.
Myth #3 Defrosting the Chicken on the Bench
This is what most of us are likely to do. We simply get the raw chicken meat out of the freeze and leave it on the bench for several hours to defrost. However, this can be quite risky and increases the risk of cross-contamination.
The best approach to thaw raw chicken meat is by placing at low temperatures of about 5 degrees centigrade. You can do this by using the microwave or the fridge. The fastest way to defrost the raw chicken meat from the freezer is by using the microwave but this is likely to ruin the meat quality. If you are planning to cook your meat the following day, leave it in the fridge to defrost overnight to ensure the safety as well as the quality of the meat is maintained. You can place the raw meat in a container or in the bottom shelf so as to prevent cross-contamination.
Myth #4: It is not safe to refreeze raw chicken
This is false. It is actually safe to refreeze the raw chicken meat after thawing it. This will only be safe if the chicken was defrosted gradually as prescribed in the step #3 above and if the defrosting process has not taken longer more than 24 hours. However, refreezing should generally be avoided as it ruins the meat quality.
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