SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. — One of the most challenging management responsibilities facing a parent stock producer is creating a nesting environment that will yield hatching eggs that are clean and relatively dry. In most cases, eggs laid in the nests have the best chance of getting to the hatchery clean and free of excess contamination. Successful nest training of hens can benefit many aspects of the industry.
For the producer, less labor is required to pick up floor eggs and more clean hatching eggs are produced. For the hatchery, nested eggs have less surface contamination, producing a higher hatch and healthier chicks. For the broiler producer, the result is healthier and stronger chicks delivered to the farm. For the production company, nested eggs mean increased return due to a higher yield of quality chicks.
This article reviews management practices to entice the breeder to lay in the nest and not on the floor.
There are several environmental factors that lead to nest rejection. For example, house ventilation issues can lead to the excessive production of floor eggs. When tunnel ventilating, air velocity along the sidewalls may be as much as 10% less than the average air velocity in the center of the house. Higher temperatures are observed over the slats and on the back side of the nest. This is particularly true in the summer months.
Nest rejection occurs when the hen perceives the nesting space as being too warm. Running a proper, balanced cool down of the house will keep the breeder hen from overheating while in the nest. Therefore, before transfer of breeders into the house, check the ventilation system, including all fan motors and belts for tightness, slippage, cracking, and excessive wear.
Factors to consider when encouraging hens to lay in the nests:
Ventilation is probably the most overlooked factor when floor eggs are a problem. It is recommended to run the cool down process to improve nest receptivity.
- When tunnel ventilating, air velocity along sidewalls is typically 10% less than the average air velocity in the center of the house.
- High temperatures on the slats can cause reduced nest usage on the back side of the nest during the summer months.
- Hens will lay outside the nest when ideal environmental conditions are not being met.
Provide additional ventilation by implementing the cool-down process prior to onset of lay.
- Run additional fans from lights on until 2 hours post-feed cleanup.
- Target house temperature between 58 degrees F to 62 degrees F (14.5 degrees C to 16.5 degrees C).
- Install a programmable controller with a cool-down function to lock in a couple of fans (2 to 3) on a timer bypass controller during feeding.
- The benefits of implementing the cool-down process are improved hen livability, feed intake and reduction of non-nest eggs.
Keep the birds moving.
- Start walking birds after they have been in the hen house 1 week. Be sure that nests are down and open.
- Walk the hens daily but do not walk the hens until they have finished feeding.
- Always walk the slats between the outside feed line and wall.
- While walking the house, do not disrupt birds exploring the nest area.
- Walk slow and collect any slat eggs. Place slat eggs in a marked egg flat and remove them from the house.
- Never place slat or floor eggs in the nests — take them to the egg room and place on a bottom rack separate from the clean eggs.
Nests must be accessible and clean.
- Slat height should be no more than 18 inches (45 centimeters) from the floor.
- The distance from the front edge of the slat to the nest should be 14 to 16 inches (35 to 41 centimenters) to create a “porch area” so that hens can have easy access to the nest while giving space for other hens to jump onto the slats.
- Maintain feeder height 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 centimeters) off the slats after the first 3 days in the hen house so that hens can easily go below the feeder track from one side to the other.
- The distance from the back of the nest to the feeder should be 18 to 24 inches (45 to 56 centimeters).
- Make sure that all nests are open daily at lights on and closed at light off.
- Make sure that egg rollout flaps are not curled so that they continue to hide the belts.
- Always maintain belts by cleaning or replacing if worn.
- The slope of the nest pad should be 9 degrees. Slopes greater than 9 degrees will deter hen use, while slopes less than 9 degrees will limit eggs rolling out onto the egg collection belt.
Condition breeders to the sound and vibration of egg collection belts. Do not run belts until about 12 eggs are collected and then run them once late in the day.
- Run collection belts at slow speed when first starting the system.
- Increase belt speed in a gradual manner as birds become more familiar with movement and sound of the belts.
- When the flock is at 5 percent production, run belts and collect eggs at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
- When the flock is at 15 percent production, run the belts and collect eggs at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m.
- At 20 percent production and beyond, run belts and collect eggs at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m.
Provide free access to water and daily feed allocation.
- Be sure to achieve 10 to 12 gallons (38 to 45 liters) of water per 1,000 birds for about 3 hours during feeding.
- Maintain a water line pressure of 60 milliliters of water per minute through each nipple.
- Make sure that drinker height is set so that birds are hitting the nipple at a 45-degree angle.
- Hens will go to the nests sooner if adequate feeder space (6 inches [15 centimeters] per bird) and uniform feed distribution is provided.
Floor eggs represent a general loss of total egg production because they impose an unnecessary risk to the hatchery and usually do not result in quality chicks. Floor egg production can be minimized, but it requires close attention to breeder behavior from onset of lay to peak production.
Nest training and management is the easiest way to increase flock performance without a great deal of costs.
Tommy Walker serves the North American market of Cobb-Vantress as a technical service representative. Walker has nearly 50 years of experience in the poultry industry, including 23 years with Cobb. He has a bachelor of science in animal science from Mississippi State University.