1. What causes birds to lose their feathers and develop "barebacks"?
The most common cause in hens is age and high productivity. As a hen progresses through her laying cycle, the demands of egg production on her body cause her feathers to become brittle, broken and to fall out. An old saying is "The toughest looking birds in the block are the best layers because they are putting their all into eggs; the nicest looking hens are the poorest layers because they are more concerned about their beauty than egg production."
Feather picking usually causes the bareback condition in chicks, or aggressive mating may cause barebacked older hens. Ref. G. Management practices – "Controlling Cannibalism in Poultry."
2. What causes "blowouts" in hens?
Prolapse "blowout" of the oviduct results when the hen ruptures the muscle in her vent while laying and egg. Penmates seeing the blood usually pick the bird to death. Debeaking or pick guards will reduce picking, but will not remove the underlying cause. Obesity (excess fat) and early sexual maturity contribute to this condition. Common causes of early sexual maturity are increasing day lengths during the growing period, obesity and switching to the laying ration too early. To prevent obesity in pullets, monitor their body weight and condition. Restrict their energy intake if they are putting on too much fat. Ref. H. Nutrition. "Feeding Chickens," for methods of controlling energy intake.
3. Do chickens need light to lay eggs?
Day length stimulates egg production in birds. Chickens need a minimum of 14-hours of light (natural and artificial) per day for maximum egg production. The daily photoperiod should never be decreased for layers or a molt may start. Ref. D. Housing and Equipment. "Lighting for Increased Egg Production."
4. What causes hens to loose feathers on their heads and necks (neck molt) and go into a production slump?
This condition is called "neck molt". It is caused by an unusual stress on the hens, such as feed or water deprivation, disease, or sudden changes in temperature. Egg production will usually return to pre-molt level in 2-3 weeks.
5. How can egg eating by stopped?
Egg eating is stimulated by factors that contribute to egg breakage such as insufficient nests, not collecting the eggs often enough and eggs with poor shell quality.
In a small flock, identify the offender(s). They will usually have egg yolk on their beak(s) and either remove them from the flock or trim their beaks.
6. Are yearling hens good replacements for a small layer flock?
The main advantages of purchasing yearling hens as flock replacements are that they cost less than ready-to-lay pullets and they lay large eggs. The main disadvantages are that you may be buying someone’s unsuccessful hens and the stress of moving may cause the hens to go into a molt, thus be out of production for a time. You may also introduce diseases to your older birds.
7. What is forced molting? What is its objective? How is it done?
Molting is the natural rest period for birds which allows their bodies to rest and restore nutrients between laying cycles. Forced molting is stressing the flock so all birds molt at the same time. A common technique for causing a forced molt is feed deprivation. The following is one successful forced molting system:
Day 1 - Discontinue artificial light in an open house.
Day 1-10 - Remove all feed for 10 days or until hens have lost 25-30% of their premolt body weight. Discontinue feed deprivation if mortality becomes severe.
Day 11-28 - Feed cracked grain plus vitamin and trace mineral pack and low levels of calcium (1%) and phosphorus (.5%).
Day 29 - Return to conventional layer mash and light.
Hens should reach 50% production 40-50 days after initiation molt. A flock that has performed poorly during the first laying cycle most likely will perform poorly in the second cycle.
8. How can broody hens be broken up?
Broodiness has been bred out of most strains of chickens, but still may occasionally show up in flocks on litter. Remove the broodies from the nest and place them on a wire floor or in a slat-bottomed coop. Feed them the regular laying ration. They should return to egg production in a week.
9. How can pullets be trained to lay in the nests instead of on the floor?
Have the nests in a convenient location and accessible to the birds. Frequently pick up floor eggs and place them in the nests. Destroy the floor nesting sites. Place artificial eggs in the nests. Move pullets from rearing to laying pens before they start to lay.