As productive as poultry farming is, there are cases where production rates drop drastically, owing to certain factors. In the production of eggs, this situation is often referred to as ‘Egg Drop’ – a steep decline in the production of egg or the failure to achieve the usual peak in egg production. Highlighted below, are certain conditions responsible for egg drop in a poultry farm.
Decreasing day length or insufficient day length
Lighting is important for in-housed chickens because chickens do not eat properly in the dark. Hens require 14 hours (maximum of 17 hours) of day length to sustain egg production, and when it drops below 12 hours, production will decrease and frequently halt. This sometimes occurs from October through February. Artificial light can be provided to maintain a constant day length of at least 14 hours per day.
For small scale farmers, one 40watt light for every 100 square feet of coop or cage is adequate.
Layers require a completely balanced ration to sustain maximum egg production because improper nutrition can cause irregularities in egg production. Inadequate levels of energy, protein, and calcium in the diet can lead to a production decline.
Therefore, it becomes imperative to supply laying birds with a nutritionally balanced diet of between 16% – 18% protein.
Feeding whole grains, scratch feeds and table scraps can make laying birds nutrient deficient and these imbalances can cause other problems like prolapse (egg blow-outs). Prolapse is caused when the bird is too fat and/or egg is too large which makes the bird’s reproductive tract expel with the egg during ovipositioning.
Note: Thorough mixing of the feed is essential for each bird in the flock to receive a similar amount of any given nutrient; also chickens tend to eat less when the feed is not tasty.
• Low calcium in the feed
Calcium deficient feed can result in smaller eggs, soft-shelled eggs, shell-less eggs, cracked eggs and sometimes leads to eggs losing color and hens having leg problems.
In cases of calcium deficiency, a random sample from the feed can be taken to the laboratory to check for calcium level. When mixing your ration, make sure that calcium added is between 3-5 % (oyster shell can be added to the laying hen’s diet to help ensure stronger eggshells).
Note: limestone grit can be given as a top dressing at least twice a week at 5 gm/bird for calcium deficient flock, also Vitamin D plays an important role in the proper utilization of calcium and phosphorous, sufficient amounts of this vitamin should be included in the feed.
• Insufficient drinking water
Lack of water results in reduced egg production, hence clean and cool water must be available in the pen to avoid heat stress.
• Low salt in the feed
This can cause a sharp decline in egg production as well as signs of pecking and feathers eating among the flock.
Note: Required quantity of salt in the layers ration is 0.4 %.
Stress as a result of moving, handling, changes in environmental conditions and fright can contribute immensely to egg production declines.
Common stressors include
• Cold weather
Chickens are known to be sicky in damp and draughty conditions hence the need to prevent excessive exposure during colder months. During this period marked drop in egg production, laying of small eggs and poor weight gain in chickens especially broilers, delay in pullets sexual maturity turning out to be poor layers are experienced, birds may not reach the production peak during this period and mortality due to lower temperature may be observed.
Bird need more metabolic heat to maintain body temperature and as a result, more amount of subcutaneous fat need to deposit, therefore, oil or fat can be added to feed and energy levels in the feed can be raised to meet the higher energy need of the bird, low temperature causes more feed intake and high oxygen demand. Therefore, when the weather gets colder, it is essential to give chicken more feed.
The time period for brooding chicks during this period of cold should be extended.
Medication during this period should be based on pulse dosing or waterers removed few hours prior to medication.
Vaccine is given in less amount of water so that the birds can consume the entity water and each bird gets the benefit of the vaccine.
Stock density of the flock can be increased during the period of cold weather.
Handling or indiscriminate movement of birds
Once the laying flock is kept in a place, unnecessary movement or handling should be limited. Switching or changing of pens can disrupt the egg production.
Parasites both external and internal can interfere with production and as a result prompt diagnosis and treatment are vital to ensure efficiency of production.
Frequent frightening of the laying birds can cause a drastic reduction in production, therefore movement of children, dogs, livestock and vehicles around the pen as well as loud noises should be limited.
Predators like rats, snakes can also cause stress for the birds which may lead to a decrease in production capacity.
Note: A single stress or disturbance to a flock of laying hens can be enough to de-synchronize the process of egg formation for several days.
Hens can produce efficiently for two laying cycles. Although varies from species, after two or three years, many hens decline in productivity. Good layers can produce for about 50 to 60 weeks per laying cycle. Between these cycles there will be a period of rest called a molt. Poorer layers and older hens will molt more often and lay less.
Note: Removal of non-layers from the flock of layers is recommended if economical egg production is the goal
Infectious bronchitis (IB) is a rapidly spreading viral infection characterized by respiratory signs. It causes drop in egg production (up to 50 %) and egg quality as well as egg shells deformation.
Newcastle disease (NCD) is a viral infection that can result in a mortality rate of 100 % in chickens. It also leads to a drop in egg production and quality.
Epidemic tremor is a viral infection that results in a drop in egg production. Layers are vaccinated on the thirteenth week of age against this infection. The vaccine is given orally.
Egg drop syndrome is a viral infection that affects the reproductive organs of chickens with drop in egg production, thin shells, soft shells and shell-less eggs as signs. Layers are vaccinated on the sixteenth week of age intravenously.
Note: Best protection against disease is to buy healthy stock and keep them isolated from older stocks. Buying adult birds and introducing them to the flock is a dangerous practice. Chicks from a reputable hatchery or hatchlings from own eggs are ideal for increasing the flocks. Adult birds can look healthy and carry diseases.
Other diseases associated with a drop in egg production are salmonellosis, mycoplasmosis, infectious laryngotracheitis, and internal parasites especially when the chickens are kept on the ground.