Raising layer-type birds

Taruvinga Magwiroto

A good number of people have requested that we write something about layers. We aim to give an overview of this kind of poultry, how they differ from broilers and possible problems and issues that arise in keeping them, and how to solve the problems.

Layer-type birds are birds bred and selected for egg-laying. These birds are mostly hybrid birds bred by crossing various chicken breeds such as Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, etc. Different breeders have specific brand names, no doubt those in Zimbabwe will be familiar with the Hyline breed.

Layer-type birds are prolific egg layers, laying up to 340 eggs per year. How do they do this?

First, layers do no go broody. “Broodiness” (kurarira mazai) is a normal physiological behaviour of mature female birds that cause them to sit on eggs after laying a “clutch” of 15-20 eggs. This causes the bird to stop laying (under hormonal influences). Layers do not go broody, that’s why they can lay almost throughout the year, once they start laying.

Layers, unlike broilers, are slower-growing. They reach point of lay between 18-21 weeks. This is when their reproductive system matures enough to start laying eggs. Therefore layer feed does not need to have as high crude protein as that of broilers, therefore it is cheaper.

Layers are egg-laying machines. Because of that, they have a high need for the mineral calcium, which is an important component of egg shell. Deficiency can result in soft-shelled eggs which can break inside the uterus, usually resulting in death of the bird. One cheap way of supplementing calcium is to grind empty egg shells and incorporate them into the birds’ feed.

Unlike broilers (whose life span is an average of 7 weeks), layers can remain viable for up to 2 years. The normal practice is to slaughter them after one year,and bring in a new batch. Either way, layers live significantly longer than broilers. As such they are exposed to diseases, and therefore the need for vaccination is greater. There is a whole host of vaccination protocols, but usually the major diseases to vaccinate against are: Newcastle Disease, Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD), Infectious Coryza among others.

Light management is especially important in layers, because of the role of light in reproduction of birds. I will not go into the science of it, but suffice to say that layers need a certain amount of light hours per day in their developmental stages. As a rule of thumb, 12-14 hours is the average length required when they start laying.

Layers are prone to stress, and stress affects their productivity. You can refresh your grasp of animal welfare here:https://livestockmatters.blog/2019/03/21/animal-welfare-good-for-them-good-for-you-too/

Avoid overstocking (aim for 5 birds/sq.metre), vaccinate against common diseases, give sufficient feed, and manage your light. Remember, these birds are prone to stress, and stress affects productivity, so better take care of their welfare!

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