Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The issues of nutrition, sanitation and habitat must be addressed in order to arrive at a lasting solution to unsatisfactory egg production.
Producing eggs is extremely energy intensive for hens. When pullets begin laying, their daily requirements for protein, vitamins, and minerals markedly increase. Inadequate intake of dietary protein and other nutrients may result in poor egg production and low hatching rates. Laying hens need a balanced diet to maintain maximum egg production over their entire life span, as well as week to week. Poor nutrition can cause hens to cease generating eggs altogether.
So let’s have a look at what every fowl requires in producing an egg, and then discuss how large and small farmers can sustainably meet these demands, without sacrificing the long-term health of their stock.
Dietary fat is a source of energy and linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. A deficiency of linoleic acid will adversely affect egg production. Dietary fats also serve as critical “carriers” of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. The single greatest consequence of deficient dietary fat may be poor uptake of these fat-soluble vitamins.
When wild progenitors of domestic fowl are maintained in captivity, they often prove difficult to sustain over time. Due to nutritional imbalances, reproductive health is often compromised and, over time, subsequent generations of these strains of wild progenitors often die out in captivity. One of the primary causes of this misfortune is dietary fat deficiency and consequent vitamin assimilation problems.
When these wild progenitor species are provided with increased dietary fat and allowed more adequate levels of fat-soluble vitamins, reproductive health is generally restored, with greater hatchability of eggs and a decrease in chick mortality.
All species and breeds of laying hens tend to fare better and produce larger clutch sizes with added dietary fat. Furthermore, adult males are less likely to die suddenly during molt, a not-infrequent occurrence in captive populations maintained on nutritionally inadequate diets.
Increased protein ratios in poultry diets are also essential to successful egg production.
Protein requirements are best understood as requirements for the amino acids that constitute proteins. There are 22 amino acids, and all are physiologically essential. Some of these amino acids cannot be synthesized by poultry, others cannot be synthesized rapidly enough to meet metabolic requirements. Adequate quantities of properly balanced amino acid (protein) profiles must be provided to laying hens. Methionine is the amino acid most often deficient in laying rations.
Eggshells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. A pullet’s calcium requirements are relatively low from the time it hatches until it reaches sexual maturity. When the first eggs develop inside the hen, calcium needs are increased at least four-fold, with practically all of this calcium devoted to eggshells. Inadequate calcium consumption and/or absorption results in decreased egg production and diminished eggshell quality.
Hens store calcium in their bones. As calcium reserves are depleted, bones become brittle. In severe cases, hens are unable to stand. This condition is known as “caged-layer fatigue.”
Note: Immature birds should not be fed a high-calcium “layer diet” because the calcium/phosphorus ratio will be imbalanced, resulting in increased morbidity or mortality.
Sources of calcium in poultry feeds include limestone particles and ground oyster shell. Dolomitic limestone is another source of calcium in poultry feeds. Dolomitic limestone contains at least 10% magnesium, and this competes with calcium for absorption sites in the intestine. Thus, feeding dolomitic limestone can induce calcium deficiency.
Vitamin D is also required for normal calcium absorption and utilization. If inadequate levels of vitamin D are available, calcium deficiency quickly arises, and egg production decreases.
Feed-grade vitamin D comes in two forms, D2 and D3. In most animals, both forms are equally effective. In the case of birds, however, D3 is substantially more active than D2. In poultry diets, therefore, vitamin D must be supplied in the form of D3 for optimal results.
For further reading on poultry nutrition go to:
SANITATION & HABITAT
Where conditions are right, fungi proliferate into colonies and mycotoxin levels elevate. The production of toxins depends on the surrounding intrinsic and extrinsic environments. The toxins vary greatly in their severity, depending on the organism infected, and its susceptibility, metabolism, and defense mechanisms. Some health effects found in animals and humans include inflammation from allergic reactions, identifiable diseases, weakened immune systems, and mortality. When hay is used for bedding in chicken houses, mycotoxins flourish.
There is a common misperception that hens will stop laying or the number of eggs will drop dramatically after their second year. This is certainly true in battery conditions where crowding, poor ventilation, unnatural lighting conditions, de-beaking, and other factors leading to captive stress take a toll on the health of chickens. In barnyard flocks with appropriate housing and feeding protocols, hens should survive and lay well into their teens, if not longer. This will not be the case if consistent attention toward the reduction of mycotoxin and bacterial levels are not a top priority in husbandry protocols.
It is a common habit for people to throw kitchen scraps to their hens. Inevitably, this partially pecked-over material mixes with the substrate, and is contaminated by fecal material. While chickens can and do ingest generous portions of vegetable material, they are not herbivores by habit or morphology.
Additionally, if kitchen scraps are deposited in poultry yards, appropriate feeding stations (secure, “no tip” bowls, well off the ground) should be constructed that prevent these added foods from becoming contaminated with “poultry smut.” Many people will exclaim that their grandparents always threw compost into the chicken yard with no ill effects. This is simply not the case. The truth of the matter is, no one gave much thought to the potential levels of salmonella, botulism, and mycoplasma growing in their poultry yards. The diligent management of pathogen loads within the hen house reduces immune system stress levels, and can greatly increase egg production.
How can I get my chickens to stop eating eggs?
Egg eating is a symptom of nutritional deficiency, boredom, and/or inadequacies of the physical environment provided for fowl.
We have found that egg eating is greatly reduced and often stopped completely with a few simple alterations to the hen house. Additional nest boxes or baskets at varying elevations are a huge help.
Creating at least two different feeding tables at opposite ends of the enclosure provide every bird in the poultry yard an opportunity to feed without being bullied by others. Elevated feeding tables require birds to jump, climb, flap, and even fly to obtain their food. This added exercise stimulates muscle tone, improves circulation, and alleviates boredom.
Adding additional perches at varying elevations is also helpful. Adding minor, incomplete partitions, or simply leaning a few solid two-dimensional objects against a wall to serve as cover can help stimulate birds and put them at ease, reducing boredom and/or anxiety.
Once chores are complete, spend some quiet and motionless time observing the interactions within your flock(s). We have found that regular study of our birds’ behaviors (both beneficial and harmful activities) is of great value to understanding how to alter their physical environment to steer them toward greater harmony.
Perhaps the greatest single cause of egg eating is nutritional deficiency. Click here for information on how to address nutritional deficiency with Farmers’ Helper ForageCakes.
Why are my chickens pecking out and eating feathers?
Feather pecking and cannibalism are most common in overcrowded conditions, but are also seen in situations where insufficient behavioral stimulation is provided, or a lack of diversity exists within the physical environment.
Feather pecking and eating feathers also occurs when there is insufficient dietary fiber in the diet.
What is the best method of feeding my chickens?
Many people place chicken feed in containers close to the ground, or simply throw feed directly on to the ground. These practices can perpetuate a cycle of disease and infection. Placing feeders within trays that collect spilled material, well off of the ground, on tables and shelving, helps to prevent wasted feed and contamination of feedstuffs. See discussion above, under the “egg eating” entry.
One of my hens has an upper respiratory infection. How can I prevent this from happening in the future?
Disintegrated feed particulates, feather dander, dust, and dried fecal matter are present to some degree in almost every avian enclosure. Normal activity in the henhouse mixes all of these materials together. The combination of these pollutants creates a bacteria-rich contaminant referred to as “poultry smut.” Regular behavior within the henhouse such as ground scratching, wing flapping, and dust wallowing, causes poultry smut to become airborne. This material is a perfect environment for infectious disease, as it coats all surface areas. Consequently, birds ingest this material while preening their feathers and breathing. Chicks may also inhale feed particulates in the brooder as they feed on mashes. Click here for more information. Both of these occurrences can lead to respiratory infections.
For additional reading on upper respiratory infections go to:
Besides being a formidable problem within the henhouse, Mycoplasma spp. have been known to infect human beings and other animals. Studies suggest that M. lipofaciens (strain ML64) can be transmitted successfully to humans and may cause clinical symptoms. These findings should be of special interest for humans highly susceptible to infection, including children, the elderly, and persons with congenital or acquired immunodeficiencies.
For additional reading on management of Mycotoxins go to:
My city has an ordinance about animal odor, what can I do to reduce manure odor?
When chickens do not digest their food completely, they tend to produce copious amounts of fetid droppings. In our experience, two protocols are most helpful in reducing poultry manure odor:
a) Ameliorate (amend) the diet with premium dietary fibers and probiotics designed to improve digestive-tract health and minimize water content of droppings. Click here for more information.
b) Optimize the diet with supplements designed to absorb ammonia and odor. Click here for more information.
For more information on odor management go to:
And let’s not forget that manure is not just something we are obliged to deal with. Manure can also be an incredibly valuable resource. The harvest and utilization of manure is streamlined and accentuated when the flock has been maintained on optimal diets so that fecal material is more manageable. Wet, sticky droppings indicate that ingested food is largely wasted: In this case, food is being passed through the bird too quickly and hence is poorly digested, representing squandered resources leading to less sustainable poultry-farming regimes.
For further reading on utilizing manure go to:
Additionally, simple alterations in the design of your henhouse may make manure easier to manage, and reduce the potential for birds to come into contact with their own droppings.
Frequently Asked Questions about Farmers' Helper Products
Weigh out the exact amount of kibble placed out in the morning and then collect whatever is left out in the evening. If the birds are not consuming all the kibble, remove the remaining portion, and return it only when they are hungry enough to consume it. UltraKibble is designed to increase floral health in the gut, and when the birds ingest it on an empty crop, they will actually better utilize the available nutrients, leading to a healthier digestive system and a healthier animal.
My birds seemed to like the ForageCake at first, but after a few weeks seem to ignore it. What can I do with a ForageCake that has been pecked into a hard mass and is no longer utilized?
We suggest removing the thoroughly worked-over ForageCake and generously rinsing it for a few minutes in very warm water. Make certain that it is clean of all contaminants, and then cut or break it up, placing it into a sterilized feeding dish. Newly softened, the birds will return to consuming the “refreshed” ForageCake. It is essential that the animal manager take the time and effort to thoroughly clean the ForageCake before returning it to the poultry house.
Can chicks eat a ForageCake?
We have seen mother hens bring their chicks to a ForageCake formulated for adult birds, and then spend hours freeing seeds and other treats for their chicks.
We have also maintained chicks that have grown out their first complete wing and tail feathers on the same adult oriented ForageCakes. These products are particularly useful for growing gamebirds, poults, juvenile heritage breed chickens, and broilers.
Do you have ForageCakes for chicks?
We created BabyCakes specifically for young chicks up to eight weeks of age.
These softer ForageCakes provide all the inherent stimulation and enhanced nutrition supplementation of ForageCakes for adult birds, while also helping reduce manure odor and feather pecking. BabyCakes have been demonstrated to reduce mortality in broiler and turkey poults, as well as reducing mortality of the chicks of very delicate wild species.
For those of you working with hard-to-rear heritage breeds like the Yokohama and Saipan, provide BabyCakes twice a week to the 16th week of life. Peafowl, guineafowl and subtropical pheasants should be provided with BabyCakes throughout their adult life at an interval of once every three to four weeks, and during elevated stress, such as shipment, temperature extremes, and relocation from one enclosure to another.
What ForageCakes are best for my breeding stock of show birds?
The Optimal ForageCake is formulated for very valuable stock, as well as any breeding stock. Cutting the Optimal ForageCake into small pieces and softening them slightly with warm water has proved to be a very efficient method of feeding birds in poultry shows.
We also highly recommend that poultiers, gamebird farmers, and aviculturists provide their breeding stock with BabyCakes, breaking off small pieces and feeding approximately 2–3 tablespoons daily throughout the breeding season.