by Paul Welten, Technical Service Manager The success of a breeder flock depends on producing good quality hatching eggs with high hatchability and delivering first quality broiler chicks. Floor eggs have an average 10 percent lower hatchability and produce poorer quality chicks due contamination from the dirty environment. Flocks achieving less than 1% floor eggs are normal, but a flock with more than 5% is deemed a problem requiring investigation and corrective actions to prevent this occurring with the next flock. Rearing period The conditions in which the birds are reared and trained have a big impact. Birds gain easier access to nest boxes when perches have been used in rearing. Place them no later than four weeks of age and we recommend installing one perch for every 500 birds. Avoid electric wires on feed or drinking lines. The birds become nervous and afraid to jump on slats in the production house. Rear the pullets according the breed’s bodyweight profiles. Overweight and over fleshed birds are more prone to lay floor eggs. Reduce the light intensity in the rearing period to allow at least a sevenfold increase in intensity in the production house. Production period At the start of production floor eggs are highest and later decline to normal levels. When the hens have laid more than four eggs in a certain location, they will continue to lay there. It is essential from the start of lay that all floor eggs are removed as soon as possible to prevent further eggs being laid on the floor. After peak production it is very difficult to reduce the number of floor eggs. Nest management More and more companies are changing from individual nest boxes to community nests because of labor savings. Both types of nest can work well. The birds should have easy access to the laying nest and it should be an attractive place to lay an egg. The material of which the nest is made should be bird friendly and provide environmental comfort to the hen. It is essential that there are no draughts in the nest because this will discourage the hen from using it. Manual type nest We recommend a maximum 4.5 birds/nest, depending on type. The walking distance to the nest should be less than 10 metres. The vertical depth of the nest should be at least 15 cm and enough litter should be provided to a maximum of two-thirds full. Preferable is to have a slat area that hens can use to directly enter the nest area, especially the second floor. The maximum height to jump to get into the nest is 45 cm. Egg collection should be carried out regularly to prevent more than three eggs in any nest; too many eggs will increase the risk of broken eggs and pre-incubation of eggs. Automatic nests Birds like to lay their eggs in the dark, so a curtain covering the nest entry is important. To attract the birds to the nest, a slat area of 40% of the total floor area with a slope of 7% is suggested. Place one feeder line and one drinker line on the slat about 60cm apart with the drinker line about 70 cm from the nest opening. Never place all the feeder lines on the slat because this will discourage birds from going to the litter area and will reduce male and female interaction. Open the nest before the lights switch on and close the nest one hour before the lights switch off. Light Light distribution should be uniform and prevent any shadows that would encourage the hen to nest there. Light intensity should be at least 60 lux at floor level and avoid high light intensity at the nest entrance. Feeding Place the feeder high enough to allow the birds to move freely across the floor area at least 20 cm from the litter and if possible winch up the system after feeding. Start with feeding 30 minutes after lights switch on or when 80 percent of the eggs are laid. Management Move the pullets to the production house at least two weeks before they start laying so they can adapt to their environment. Open the nest when the first egg is laid. Don’t open the nest too quickly because the females will lose their interest and it becomes a resting place which they will make dirty. Nipple lines should have a water flow of 80-100 cc/minute so the birds satisfy their water needs quickly and do not block the nest entrance area. The male and female development should be synchronized. Active males push the females up on the slat area, however overactive males can lead to hen damage and mortality. Enough nest space is crucial. Birds don’t want to wait. The requirement for an automatic nest is a minimum 100 sq cm nest space for one bird (1 sq m for 100 birds). In the first weeks of production floor egg percentage is highest. Remove the floor eggs as soon as possible from onset to peak production. Control bodyweight so the birds don’t get overweight and too fleshed. Too heavy birds are less mobile and lay more floor eggs. Avoid too much bedding in the scratch area - 2-3 cm is enough. Diseases, red mites and leg problems increase the number of floor eggs.