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By Katie Thear
This is part one of two on evaluating laying hens. Part two >> Evaluating Laying Hens Individually
Many claims are made for the productivity of hens when it comes to egg laying capacity, but these are meaningless unless backed up by adequate records. How does one distinguish a good layer from a poor one, and deal with egg problems when they arise?
Anyone considering buying point-of-lay pullets has the choice of hybrids or pure breeds.
Hybrids are the best layers, with a fund of statistical information being available about their performance.
Pure breeds are preferred by many small-scale poultry-keepers, however, because they rightly feel that they are supporting traditional breeds that might otherwise cease to exist.
Here, the emphasis should be on utility rather than show birds. For example, the Barred Plymouth Rock was one of the premier breeds for egg production in the past, and indeed was one of the breeds that my parents had on their Welsh smallholding. There are still beautiful examples of the breed to be seen at poultry shows, but they are nowhere near as productive as they used to be.
It has often been said that strain is better than breed, an indication that a family strain that has been selectively bred for production is better than mere reliance on a breed name. If the choice is to be a pure breed and a reasonable productivity level is required, then it makes sense to try and find a breeder who has bred the birds for this purpose and has kept adequate records. There are not many of them left
Commercial layers are described as having a certain ‘hen-housed average’. This is the total number of eggs produced by a flock, divided by the number of birds (including mortalities). This may be worked out for a different number of weeks. Some breeders may be quoting an HHA for 70 weeks, while others may be basing it on 74 or more weeks. Watch out for this!
The following table shows the hen-housed average production rates for eight flocks of free-range ISA Browns in Norfolk.
|Flock||Number of Eggs||Number of Weeks|
Source: J. Vergeson’s unit, Norfolk. ISA Brown Newsletter, May 1996
Pure breeds are unlikely to reach anything like this level of production, although some of the recent commercial crosses and strains that have been developed specifically for free-range are very productive. They include Calder Ranger (Columbian Blacktail), Speckledy, ISA-Warren, Bovans Nera, Hebden Black and Black Rock.
Commercial hybrid breeders also make available other data such as the average egg weight and the amount of feed consumed to produce a given number of eggs. The following table indicates the type of information available.
|Body weight at 17 weeks||1500g|
|Feed consumption per bird||6.34kg|
|Egg production, hen-housed||292|
|Age at 50% production||150 days|
|Average egg weight||63.2g|
|Feed per egg||144g|
|Feed conversion ratio||2.24|
|Shell colour||Dark brown|
|End of lay body weight||2100g|
Source: Hisex Ranger Performance data sheet, May 1996.
At present, few breeders of pure breeds produce such detailed information. Until they do, they will have a hard time convincing commercial egg producers that pure breeds are indeed commercial birds. (I would be interested to hear from any pure breed breeder who has production records for good utility strains).
Copyright © Katie Thear 2005