Feeding Modern Day Broiler Breeder Hens

This article is the second of two parts, explaining how to successfully feed and manage the broiler breeder hens of today and tomorrow.

Proper management is just as important in production as it is in rearing. In fact, today’s growers must constantly manage hens to keep them at an ideal weight, despite their ability to grow faster and convert feed more efficiently. Below, Chance Bryant, North America Technical Manager – West Division for Cobb, outlines specific management techniques to grow top-performing breeder hens.

Develop a Pre-Transfer Plan

Pre-transfer, the pullet service tech and the hen service tech must collaborate to develop a plan to feed the hens in their new environment. The production manager must also proactively develop a plan to feed hens and manage weight gain throughout egg production.

Make Sure Hens Find Feed and Water Post-Transfer

The first 21 days post-transfer are the most critical time for both the birds and the growers. In this new setting, it is equally imperative that hens find feed and water right away. To assist the birds, the grower must be present at each feeding time for several reasons:

  1. To make sure birds are moving up to the slats to locate feed and water. If necessary, the grower should physically place them there.
  2. To ensure feed is evenly distributed and all feeding systems are functioning properly (before the birds ever miss a meal).
  3. To verify that birds have an adequate water supply.

Ensure Adequate Feeder Space

Similar to the rearing house, having adequate feeder space for hens reduces chaos during feeding time and improves flock uniformity. However, providing ample feeder space for hens can improve feeding ability, body confirmation, weight gains and feed efficiency, which results in better egg production. 

Offset Heat Build-up

Birds also generate a lot of heat during feeding, which can create many negative side effects if left unchecked. Today’s houses are temperature-controlled and continually monitored by computerized sensors in the scratch area. However, the heat build-up is not in the scratch area, where the sensors are, but rather on the feed lines where the hens are congregated during feeding. 

This area becomes excessively warm and the birds become overheated and stressed, which ultimately results in a lower feed intake, increased mortality and a higher rate of floor eggs.

The photo below is a close up of the birds eating which shows a temperature of approximately 81°F, even though the house temperature is just 68°F according to the sensors that were placed in the scratch area.

Flock managers can offset this by increasing ventilation and airflow during feeding. They can either manually lower the temperature by turning on additional fans during feeding or by setting controllers to automatically run fans during the regularly scheduled feed times.

Reduce Feed after Peak Production

Flock managers must also be prepared to reduce feed amounts once peak feed is reached. Monitor weight gains, feed cleanup times, bird interest toward feed and use these indicators to determine when peak feed needs to be reduced. If you wait too long, hens will become overweight. Feed increases and decreases have to be managed closely to maintain proper growth and egg production for the next 35 weeks post-peak.

Ultimately, it is a fine line between restricting the pullet and hens’ weight to achieve optimal production versus the desire for the bird to grow more rapidly on less feed. With improvements in housing and a more intense focus on management techniques, we can continue to realize great performance from today’s modern broiler breeder. Find more information about maximizing broiler breeder performance in our Cobb Academy.

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