As the breeding companies continue to select primarily for broiler traits, it becomes more challenging to achieve high levels of parent stock performance. Generally, the hen performance traits are opposed to the broiler traits - and when one trait is enhanced through selection, another trait may suffer. Recognizing that broiler performance and efficiency are always the driving factor in selection programs, the breeding company and production managers must do everything possible to obtain the best performance from parent flocks. Many techniques of feeding, lighting and weight control have been refined in recent years. But of all factors affecting breeder hen performance, flock uniformity is the most important. Management must be geared to preserving flock uniformity while accomplishing the feeding and body weight control necessary for good reproductive performance. Birds that are uniform can be fed properly and light stimulated with the greatest effect, resulting in optimum production and persistency. Uniformity begins at day one, and continues throughout the life of the flock. Rearing – the first 24 hours Flock uniformity begins even before the day-old chicks are delivered. The proper set-up to supply readily accessible feed and water in a good environment reduces stress on the chicks, and helps them to begin growing properly. This is especially important when receiving chicks from a long delivery, as with international shipments. On arrival the chicks should be placed on feed and near water. Feed availability can be assured by using at least one feeder lid per 80-100 chicks or by using brooding paper covering 60% of the starting chamber. Feed can be placed directly on the paper, making it easy for the chicks to begin eating. Water should be close and easily reachable. Auxiliary watering devices such as chick founts or chick water jugs will help by making more water readily accessible in the first days. There are two ‘chick checks’ that will determine if the starting procedure is correct. The first is made 4-6 hours post-placement - checking the temperature of the chicks’ feet against the neck or cheek. If the feet are cold, the internal temperature of the chick is also reduced. This will result in poor early feed intake and growth, leading to reduced uniformity. The second check is carried out 8-24 hours post-placement. At this time, 95% of the crops should feel soft and pliable, indicating that the chicks have successfully located feed and water. Hard crops indicate chicks have not found water. Swollen and distended crops would indicate that the chicks have found water but not feed. Sample at least 100 chicks per brood area. If the crops do not feel right, the starting set-up must be immediately evaluated. Grading – birds differ in eating temperament as well as size Grading of birds by bodyweight is the best way to enhance flock uniformity. There are several programs practiced around the world, but all agree that grading is best done as early in life as possible. Then this will have time to affect the frame size, generally established before 4-5 weeks of age. Production results have been improved by grading the flock by weight as early as 7 days and placing birds of similar weights into separate pens. Using four groups seems to work the best: The medium group, which will be the highest number, will have all birds plus or minus 10% of the average weight; the heavy group, with chicks more than 10% heavier than the average; the light group, with birds 10 to 20% under the average; and the super-light group, with more than 20% of birds under the average weight. The birds are then placed into different pens so they can be fed separately using the amount and ration that best meets their needs. Smaller birds can be fed more of a higher density diet early enough to give them the extra nutrients they need to catch up to average birds in the flock. The heavier birds can be fed the amount normally fed to the medium group, and their growth rate will be controlled as they will only compete with like size birds. It is interesting to note that birds grow at different rates not only from their genetic potential but also due to acquired eating temperament. The birds with more aggressive appetites will push the timid birds to the side and consume more than their share at the expense of smaller birds. This will continue and is especially detrimental when there are shortcomings in feeder space or feed delivery times. So the smaller birds graded into a separate pen are the most timid ones and will always remain so. Because of this, they will need to stay in pens with the other timid birds rather than be re-introduced into the general population to be pushed aside again. Grading by weight can be carried out as needed to establish and maintain uniformity. After the initial 7-day grading, another can be done at 3-4 weeks, then at 7-8 weeks and again at 11-12 if needed. After 15 weeks, any further grading should be done with an emphasis on body conformation rather than bodyweight. At this age, birds can be scored for fleshing conformation and fat deposition, and separated into pens according to those criteria. A grading for fleshing at 15-16 weeks allows time to build up the body conformation of the underdeveloped birds so they are properly prepared for light stimulation at 20-21 weeks. Production – giving all birds an equal chance to feed If accommodation is available, the smaller females can be housed separately at transfer time so they will not need to compete with the larger, more aggressive birds. Larger males can be matched with the larger females. The best policy for a manager is to treat the flock according to the average bird weight and conformation. This is made much easier when all the birds are as similar as possible and so respond to feeding and light changes uniformly. But there are techniques to use in both rearing and production to maintain uniformity. Providing enough feeder space to accommodate all the birds eating at the same time is the most important. If not enough space exists, the more aggressive birds will push the timid birds away, causing uneven consumption. Feeding a low-density mash feed slows the consumption time due to higher volume, allowing the less aggressive birds more time to eat their share. A feed delivery system that has the feed in front of the birds as quickly as possible is needed. This will help prevent the birds crowding at the point where the feed first appears. Filling the feeders in the dark, both in rearing and production, allows the feed to be in front of the birds when the lights are turned on. A similar effect can be accomplished by raising the feeders out of reach of the birds to fill them, and then lowering the feeders at eating time. Use of auxiliary hoppers strategically placed along the feeder line can effectively reduce the delivery times. Two minutes to completely fill the track or all pans should be considered the maximum. In any case, the goal is to have the filled feeders in front of all of the birds as close to the same time as possible. The above techniques work best if implemented at the beginning of feed control in the rearing house, normally at 2-3 weeks of age. Aggressive eating patterns contributing to a non-uniform flock is a learned activity when the birds have to compete for feed or feeder space. Flocks that are trained not to be aggressive at feeding time actually eat more slowly, extending the feeding period and allowing all birds ample time to eat the required nutrients. It is important to realize that the advantages gained through grading will be lost if the management techniques listed above are not followed. Any gain will only be temporary, and the labor expense involved in grading will be wasted. Benefits can be captured only if the complete program is followed. Putting emphasis on total flock uniformity is one of the most important aspects of raising a good performing breeder flock. When the birds are uniform, all the other management decisions are made much easier. A flock uniform in size comes into production better, peaks higher and persists better as those decisions are correct for a greater proportion of the flock.