Profitable Poultry Production

by M. G. Kains

Chapter VIII
Egg Production

While it is true that a small yield of eggs is likely to be unprofitable, it does not necessarily follow that a large yield is invariably profitable. This may be because the cost of production is disproportionate to the amount realized, but since the aim of egg production is usually profit, it is highly desirable to increase the egg yield as much as possible within reasonable limits. It often happens that in striving to attain this end a poultry raiser who has made a good profit out of a small flock may lose by keeping a large one, because the egg yield may be increased only at unreasonable expense.

Egg pail. Bottom and sides corrugated paper.
The great majority of farmers' flocks lay eggs only during what may be called the "natural season" of the year, mainly in the spring and early summer. One of the principal reasons for this is that the fowls are usually kept in an almost natural state. They do not receive the special attention that the egg farmer gives his flocks. Doubtless the great majority could be made to yield eggs well throughout the year by proper management -- management such as the egg farmer gives his flocks. But where it would be profitable to the ordinary farmer to give the extra care essential to such egg production can only be determined by the farmer himself.

The cost of production on the general farm is practically nothing in actual cash outlay, that is, where the flock is not large. The eggs in such cases are looked upon as just so much money lying loose and are gathered to keep it from being lost. In such cases, it is highly probable that fowls could be made to pay well by giving them a reasonable amount of attention, especially as the season thrives, when eggs sell at high prices.

A Hen's Total Yearly Production

Trap nest between pens. After hen has laid she passes inbto empty pen through door, b. Layers thus separate themselves from general flock. Door a. closes as hen enters and opens when she leaves by door b. Time saver for busy farmer.

This is not invariably the most desirable measure of egg-producing capacity. Actual production is less important than the season during which the eggs are laid. According to Raymond Pearl and Frank M. Surface of the Maine experiment station "the measure of an individual hen's egg production in any given time may be taken to be the percentage which the number of eggs actually laid is of the maximum number of eggs which might have been laid by the individual in this given length of time, assuming the production of one egg a day to be the maximum of which a hen is capable." A hen which lays 20 eggs during June would, therefore, have an egg-production record of 66-2/3 per cent for June. If she lays 31 eggs during December and January, 62 days, she would have a 50 per cent record for those months. The above rule thus puts egg records on a comparative basis. This is of great advantage in calculating the value of the hen.

Selecting Layers

Laying hens are nearly always singers. They work and hunt for food all day, and are the first off of the roost and the last to go to roost. They are nervous and very active, keeping themselves up to the greatest possible pitch. Below the tail at the end of the side pieces of the back are two somewhat bony protuberances called the pelvic or " lay" bones. They are just above the vent through which the eggs must pass. When an egg is laid, they are forced apart to allow free passage. When these bones are soft and pliable, and spread sufficiently to allow three fingers to be placed between them, it is an indication that the hen is laying. If they are hard and bony and close together experience has shown the hen is not laying at the time the examination is made.

Trap nest door.
The ideal laying hen should, therefore, conform as nearly as possible to the following: She must be healthy; comb, wattles and face red; eye bright and lustrous; neck not short, but medium to long; breast broad and long, sloping upward; back, long and broad; abdomen, wide and deeper than breast; shanks, well spread and rather long; V-shaped in three ways, viz., on sides (front to rear), top and bottom (front to rear), base of tail (downwards) ; well-spread tail.

Laying Ability Improved

Since egg production when eggs bring high prices is the leading desire of the poultryman, it is highly important that the hens be brought into laying as early as possible. The reason for this is that when hens begin to lay in the fall they are more likely to continue than if they are counted upon to start about the beginning of the new year -- that is, under ordinary farm care. Many pullets that begin to lay in the fall are naturally poor layers and soon play out. The sooner such fowls are taken out of the flock, the better. They should not be used for breeding. An important thing to remember in rearing fowls for winter laying is to have the pullets mature between September and November. This can be determined by the date of hatching and by the method of rearing. The Asiatic breeds require much longer than the Mediterranean classes.

Nest to cure egg-eating. Placed with slight tilt from left to right so egg will roll under covered part where sawdust or chaff checks rolling and protects from injury.

The American fowls hatched between late March and early May will usually begin laying during October, provided they are properly managed, but too much confidence must not be placed in this statement, because hens differ so much individually and also because methods of management vary greatly. The only thing that can be said definitely on this point is that such calculation helps in the long run and it is better to have some system that embraces as many helpful features as possible, than to have no system at all. It must be remembered that the winter is not the season which is favorable to egg production. Therefore, the poultry raiser has to contend with unfavorable conditions, especially the condition of cold and wet, to say nothing of the natural tendency.

Management of Laying Stock

So far as egg laying is concerned, the egg farmer's year begins in October. Of course, circumstances may alter cases, but this is the usual time. Everything should then be put in readiness for egg production. The pullets and hens should be placed in their permanent winter quarters and special care taken to prevent overcrowding. The sooner the flocks are made up, the better as a rule, because they then get accustomed to their quarters and there is less danger of upsetting them when they begin to lay.

None but mature pullets should be selected for laying. All that are puny, undersized, lazy, weak or otherwise undesirable, should be weeded out and sold for the table. They will not pay their board. Of course, this statement does not apply to late-hatched pullets; only those that are inferior to other stock hatched at the same time.

Only such hens as have proved their worthiness in the previous season should be kept over for a second or third winter. They usually make good breeders and the breeding flock should be selected from them rather than from pullets. Too often, however, in the farm flock, the reverse practice is followed, namely, of selling off the hens that are in best condition and using inferior ones for egg production. This is suicidal to profit. It should be reversed.

It is just as important to feed well for eggs as it is to breed well for them. As soon as cold weather approaches, corn must be added more freely to the ration than during the warm weather. Contrary to popular opinion, hens that are molting should be fed well. It does not pay to stint them. However, they should not get a ration too rich in nitrogenous matter, because they are not, as a rule, laying and they do better when given a ration richer than usual in carbonaceous ingredients. Even if this is a fattening ration, it will do no harm. By this, it is not meant that the nitrogenous matter should be cut out of the ration altogether. Feather production demands protein which must not be fed too sparingly. It is superior, as a general rule, to have the fowls somewhat too fat than poor or even in merely good condition. By proper management, many good laying hens will lay an occasional egg even while going through the molting, but this is not general.

Pullets can be fed more highly than hens during the early fall months, because they already have their feathers and are still growing. At this time, they need abundant protein, because they are not only growing in flesh but are filling out their bones and either preparing for, or actually laying.

A pullet is by no means fully matured when she starts to lay. It needs ample food to complete its development. For best results, however, pullets, should not be unduly forced to begin laying early. Indeed, it is often disadvantageous to delay laying somewhat by frequently changing the pullets' quarters. This is the only method that can be practiced with safety. It will not do to withhold food. This statement has special application to the temperature, for as the weather grows colder, larger and larger quantities of feed, especially all the carbonaceous kinds, is used to maintain the heat of the body. For this reason corn should be given more liberally, and kale, cabbage, alfalfa, clover, etc., should be given without stint.

By proper management, egg production may continue without interruption during even extremely cold weather, but, in order to maintain the flow of eggs, the hens must be protected as indicated elsewhere, against sudden change. Properly housed fowls will usually lay well no matter what the character of weather, provided the poultryman is deft in offsetting excessive fluctuations of temperature and moisture. Because large quantities of carbonaceous matter are used in maintaining the heat, a carbonaceous ration may be better for egg production during very cold weather than a nitrogenous one. This will be gathered from the discussion in the chapter on feeding, but it needs to be emphasized here. So much carbonaceous matter is used up to maintain the heat of the fowl that there should be still enough surplus of protein to meet the demands of egg laying.

Spring and Summer Care

This matter is of great importance, because, as a rule, the poultryman is likely to overlook the fact that hens lay more naturally in the spring than during the winter and, therefore, he may jump to the conclusion that his method of feeding is correct, whereas it may be positively detrimental to his best interests. For this reason, it is best that hens be allowed to become broody in early spring, so that they may have a rest of a few weeks. They will be all the better for hatching a brood of chicks and can be brought back into laying condition again even while they are running with their broods. Of course, this remark does not apply to the Mediterranean and other laying classes. Laying hens should invariably be given the utmost care to keep them in prime condition. This cannot be too strongly emphasized.

During the summer, hens usually take a rest from laying, but there will still be individuals in the flock that continue, and proper feeding will keep them in laying condition. Large numbers of eggs, however, must not be expected.

Double poultry house and run. The run may have canvas top and back or wood, as preferred. It should be removable, so houses may be used in summer for colony coops if desired.

Plenty of shade should be provided during this time and the houses kept as open as possible so as to be cool and comfortable for roosting. Where it is not convenient to have the hens run in orchards or small fruit plantations, convenient shade may be provided by quick-growing annuals such as sunflowers, corn, vines of various kinds or artificial shelters made of canvas, illustrated on other pages. During the heat of the day they should be encouraged to occupy these quarters, and during the mornings and evenings take other exercise. At these times the feeds of grain may be given, the mash feed at noon, except where hopper feeding is the method practiced. About midday also they should be given other green feed, unless they are at range.

As a general proposition, it may be said that fowls do best when given plenty of space to forage in. Since green feed is more or less cooling, it may be given twice a day in the hottest weather. At all times during the summer there should be abundant pure water always where the hens can reach it, Milk, as much as the hens will drink, is always acceptable, especially during hot weather. It should not, however, take the place of water. During the hot weather, too, the corn part of the ration should be reduced even to total exclusion.

Side hill poultry house. Lower floor, a scratching shed; upper, for laying, roosting, etc.
When hens cease laying unduly early in the summer, when managed in the usual way, these should be culled out and managed differently from the balance of the flock. As a rule, a heavy laying ration, with reduced exercise, may start them laying again. Those that do not begin within a reasonable time should be marketed, and even the ones that lay for only a few weeks and then stop, should also be sold. Only the ones that show a willingness to continue laying should be kept. It may be taken as a general rule that it is not desirable to part with a hen so long as she will lay a profitable number of eggs. She will pay for her keep as long as she lays.

Autumn Care of Layers

When making up the flock in the fall, the hens that began laying earliest and laid best with the least fussing should be chosen first. Next to this should come the hens that did best during the summer. It is a much disputed question whether pullets or hens do best as layers. Many poultrymen claim that pullets are superior and, therefore, the more profitable, but there is nothing decided on this subject. Many egg farmers get excellent egg yields from hens two to four years old -- fully as good as from pullets. Because of this fact, it is evident there is much in the method of management and in the breeding. For this reason the statement may be repeated -- not to part with a hen so long as she lays well. A hen on the nest is worth two pullets in the field.

Gentleness Affects Egg Yield

Probably few things work so much against the well being of the fowls as excitement, due to rough handling or to fear from any cause. At no time should the fowls be unnecessarily excited. Often the entrance of a dog or a cat or visitors in the pens will disturb the fowls, so these should be kept out as much as possible. Fowls on free range are not so likely to be disturbed because they get around and see the world more. At all times the attendant should avoid making sudden motions, calling loudly, or otherwise startling the fowls. He should always control his temper and try to govern even the most annoying fowls without force. It is desirable to enter the pens as quietly as possible and even to presage entrance by making some noise such as low whistling, so the hens will know that he is approaching.

Feed coop. Prevents fowls soiling feed.
When it is necessary to carry some unfamiliar object among the flock, this should be done gradually. Even the wearing of a different style of suit than usual, especially if this is of some gaudy color, will disturb the fowls until they are accustomed to it.

Hens, especially laying hens, become attached to their quarters. They, therefore, should not be unnecessarily moved because this also affects the laying, whether from homesickness or what is purely speculative, but the fact is the egg yield often suffers. Where it is absolutely necessary to make a change, this should be done with the least possible disturbance, preferably by driving the fowls gently to the new quarters. When hens must be handled or carried, this should always be done at night and the fowls should be held gently with the hand beneath the breast; never by the feet. No more than two fowls should be carried at a time in this way -- one under each arm. If a considerable number must be moved at a time, they must be placed in coops and so carried.

Broodiness is Characteristic

This is characteristic of hens of the so-called general purpose breeds. It is not necessarily dependent upon the condition of the hens nor is it certainly dependent upon the method of feeding, though both of these may have some influence. It is a popular notion that fat hens become broody because of their fat. This is not necessarily so, though it is a fact that hens fed liberally on grain often do go broody, but so they do without just as often. It may be taken as axiomatic that hens will go broody when they want to, whether fat or lean. Occasionally it is reported that a hen dies on the nest and the poultryman asks why. Investigation generally shows that these hens were sick before they started to sit. Such hens should not be given an opportunity to sit. Their condition should be noted by the poultryman and they should be brought back to health by rational management.

Hens kept mainly for producing eggs often annoy the poultryman by persistent broodiness. They should, therefore, be culled out and never used for breeders. In otherwise normal hens, broodiness may be broken when necessary. It is, however, usually an advantage to allow the hens to hatch broods, since this gives them a rest from laying. Hens of the general purpose varieties usually lay better during the molt than hens of the noted egg breeds. These egg layers generally take a long rest, the sitters two or three short ones. In order to break up broodiness, one of the quickest ways is to confine the hens with a reserve male in a pen where there are no nests. While so confined, the hens should be fed well on an egg ration. This method is more effective, as a rule, than the common way of confining hens in a slatted coop above the floor. Often the hens will begin to lay within a week or ten days. Under no condition should starving be practiced. It is not only cruel, but it is not effective and the poultryman who practices it pays the penalty by injuring the laying proclivities of the hen.

Record of Six Hundred Hens

Among the questions for the poultryman to answer are: When fowls are kept in large numbers what is the average egg production? How much does it cost for feed? How much for labor to care for them? What per cent of the fowls die each year? How should fowls be fed and handled so as to give the greatest net profit, the cost of feed, the cost for feeding, the egg production and the mortality all being taken into consideration? These questions Professors Stewart and Atwood of the West Virginia experiment station have sought to answer by keeping a record of a flock of 600 Single Comb White Leghorn pullets for one full year. The pullets were brought in from the colony houses which they had occupied during the summer and placed in a long laying house.

Self-closing gate. Either springs or weights may be used.
This house was of the curtain-front, shed-roof type, 180 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided by solid board partitions into nine compartments each 20 feet long. The middle compartment was reserved as a feed room. The curtain-front house is distinguished by an opening, preferably facing the south or east, which, on cold nights in winter and in stormy weather, may be closed by a framework covered with canvas or duck. This curtain is preferably hinged at the top and when not in use can be swung up to the roof and hooked out of the way. A few months after the test began the dirt floors in the houses were covered with cement. The house was constructed of rough oak boards and roofed with three-ply tarred roofing paper. The contract price for erecting was $200, and the house complete cost about $700.

The average weight of the pullets when the test began was 2.53 pounds, and the average age about five months, consequently many were not old enough to lay at the beginning of the experiment, and few eggs were obtained during the first two months. The floors were covered with straw litter in which the whole grain, consisting of corn and wheat, was scattered. Ground feed was fed dry in hoppers which were constantly open to the fowls. The dry mash consisted of a mixture of cornmeal, wheat bran, wheat middlings, oil meal and beef scrap. On pleasant fall and winter days the fowls were allowed to run outside the house in one large flock where they had free range.

The table shows that it cost $534.59 to feed the flock for the year, or an average of 89 cents a head. The fowls consumed 36,296 pounds of grain, beef scrap and ground fresh meat and bone, or an average of 60 pounds a head; also an average of about 5 pounds of oyster shell and grit.

The highest egg production for any month was during March, when the fowls averaged 16-2/3 eggs a head. After that month there was a gradual dropping off until the close of the test. The following table shows the number of eggs produced during the year. The prices used in this calculation are retail prices which prevailed in Morgantown for strictly fresh eggs during period shown.

The fowls produced eggs to the total value of $1,458.87, or an average of $2.43 a fowl. The period of lowest prices prevailed from March to June, and the highest priced during October, November and December.

If from the total value of the eggs the cost for feed is deducted, there remains a balance of $924.28 to cover the cost for caring for the fowls, the death losses, the depreciation in value of the fowls, the interest on investment and profit. It is difficult to estimate accurately the cost for labor, as the man who cared for these fowls did other work. An active man could undoubtedly attend to five or six times as many fowls as were in this experiment. If, for calculation, the lower number be chosen, also if it costs $50 a month for a man to do the work, then it would cost $10 a month for each house, or $720 a year. The loss of the 54 hens that died, at $8 a dozen, would amount to $36. If it is assumed that the 600 pullets are worth $400 at the beginning of the test and that they depreciate in value during the year 25 per cent, then this depreciation amounts to $100. Assuming that the house and fowls represent an investment of $1,100, then the interest at 6 per cent amounts to $66 and the account stands as follows:

The total profit from the 600 fowls was $602.28, or practically $1 a fowl. The total expense for the year was $856.58, or $1.42 a fowl. There were produced 5,646 dozen eggs at an average cost of 15 cents a dozen, and during the year 9 per cent of the fowls died. The fowls averaged 113 eggs each. It is possible that this somewhat low egg production could have been increased by some other system of feeding.

Next: Chapter IX

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