Nowadays layer breeds show a steadily increasing persistency and prolonged lifetime production period. This is mainly due to genetic improvements but nevertheless, management and especially nutrition of the nowadays highly prolific layer birds need to ensure respectively support those benefits mentioned before.
Modern layer hybrids are a four-line-cross with a long breeding history and show a very high production potential in different housing systems all around the world. This proofs for white egg producing lines and for brown egg producing hens as well. Due to ongoing genetic work, the egg industry and farmers realize steadily increasing persistency and longer liability under all housing conditions. The higher performance has been achieved by an increased efficiency too, which means that the daily feed intake has not been increased over the last ten years. In practice, this can be shown by a steadily increasing feed conversion ratio. Based on parent stock performance data from the last four years it can already be expected that the performance on a commercial level will be further increased. The main increase in laying percentage is based on longer clutch length and improved uniformity of layer flocks. The most popular aim of nowadays’ layer geneticists is the 500 egg hen – in one cycle and without molting. Genomic selection will even speed up the process to achieve this aim. Under good conditions, this aim has already been reached in quite a lot of flocks all around the world and sometimes farmers start kind of a competition how long they can extend the lifetime production period of layer flocks.
Two of the major nutritional challenges for optimal profitability will be the feeding for optimal start of the laying period and the support of saleable egg quality at the end of the laying period under the goal of extended lifetime production period.
Optimal layer nutrition for a long liability and a high number of saleable eggs starts directly after hatch. This means to fulfill the nutritional demand for the enormous growth potential during the first half of the rearing period followed by the decreased growth potential and nutritional consequences in the second half of the rearing period. The feeding program during the first half of the rearing period needs to focus on an optimal supply of digestible amino acids and even minerals to ensure the basic growth of the inner organs, muscles and even the skeleton in this early stage of life. The second half of the rearing phase is determined by a biologically reduced physiological development of the pullet, which offers the chance of training the pullets for an optimal feed intake capacity respectively feed intake behavior. This aspect is of enormous importance at the following start of the egg production where all nowadays’ layer breeds tend to have a daily feed intake being way too low. During the second half of the rearing phase, a reduced demand for protein and amino acids is offering the chance to include lower dense raw materials with higher content of crude fiber into the diet formulation. If suitable raw materials are available, it can be recommended to reach at least 5.5 % crude fiber in this feeding phase. At the end of the rearing period, just before the start of producing eggs, the bird moves from pullet phase to layer phase, which means that nearly all metabolic processes change to a high extend. Due to hormonal regulation, the development of the medullary bones is initiated and all metabolic processes move to the egg production. Nevertheless, at the start of the production layer flocks need to show further weight gain. Just before a layer flock starts to produce eggs, a pre-lay feed should be a favorable topic of all layer nutritionists. The major challenge to implementing the idea of a pre-lay feed is more a question of feed logistics and correct use on farm side in comparison to a basic nutritional question. It can be suggested to use pre-lay feed for approximately ten days with a maximum amount of maximal 1 kilo per pullet. The biggest mistakes happening regularly in practice on layer farms are too early use of pre-lay feed or too long time of using pre-lay feed. Both practices will always harm layer flocks and might destroy a good peak performance of layer flocks.
In order to support superior nutrition, the topic of feeding on gut health is rising to another level of importance.
The topic feeding on gut health to ensure nutrient and mineral absorption from the gut serves as a well-proven tool to support the overall egg quality and profitability of layer farms. Additionally, this topic got a high attraction under the bottom line of a reduced use of feed supplements with antibiotic activity. The feed industry and layer nutritionists are offered a bunch of feed additives to anticipate this idea. Feed enzymes are a well-proven tool to support gut health in general. Furthermore: herbs & spices and essential oils, acidifiers and organic acids, probiotics, prebiotics (MOS), medium and short chain fatty acid products, inclusion of non-digestible fiber (Lignin).
A further idea of feeding on gut health will be to focus on the biologically given job of the gizzard – as a grinding machine and start-up of the digestive process. The gizzard basically is a muscle which needs stimulation and needs to be clearly distinguishable from proventriculus. If the gizzard is filled with coarse feed, it will grind and mix feed particles before passing them on into the intestine. If the gizzard is getting too fine feed, it will not work and will not change particle size before passing them on into the intestine. In practice, this will result in some kind of diarrhea, wet litter, and dirty eggs. As an optimal working gizzard ensures a healthy and stable digestion, a coarse ground feed structure is recommended. Larger feed particles have an increased retention time in the crop and the gizzard, which stimulates the ph drop and due to this has a bactericide effect. An excess amount of feed particles smaller than 1mm causes a direct outflow through the gizzard without utilization. As layer birds being fed predominately with mash feed on a worldwide view, the physical structure in terms of coarseness and homogeneity needs to be given more attention because it is the basis for a healthy digestion (dry litter, clean eggs).
So-called “natural feed additives” offer a broad variety of dedicated products which have already been proven supportive to the layer industry in many countries and under varying circumstances; also considering consumer demands in a lot of those countries.
One group is formed by the so-called “secondary plant compounds”. These highly active compounds are not relevant for the primary metabolism of the plant, but are of vital importance for the defense against viruses, bacteria, fungi and insects or act as attractants for reproduction. For an effective use, it is of the highest importance to know about both, the effects of the single substances and possible synergisms.
Secondary plant compounds are used for hundreds of years in human medicine and they are well accepted by the consumer. Because of their digestive, anti-inflammatory, bactericidal and antioxidant properties, they have a positive impact on performance parameters like daily gain, feed conversion but also mortality. This opened to them the floodgates in animal production. Concerning feed conversion noticeable improvements are possible.
With the new technology of micro droplet encapsulation a target oriented release is possible because the good smell that can be noticed in the stable cannot be effective within the animal. Furthermore, the former problem of leakage during the milling and grinding processes could be solved.
In acute situations, a liquid product is available which can be put into the waterline. Beside the nutritional aspect in first attempts, this product also showed good effects against the resistant bacteria ESBL producing E. coli and MRSA.
Presented at AFMA Meeting, October 2015.