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Sep 14, 2022

How to extend the laying cycle while maintaining eggshell quality

Sep 14, 2022

According to Will White, poultry specialist at Crediton Milling Company, all producers should be looking to achieve as long a laying period as possible, with 90-week cycles becoming the new normal.  

“Extending the laying cycle can yield significant improvements in flock profitability, but only if good levels of productivity and egg quality can be maintained.  

“Good gut health is absolutely key to this and should be considered from day one. We know that birds with good gut health will grow better, be more efficient and generally be healthier birds,” he says.

Challenges of longer laying cycles

One of the main challenges of extending the laying cycle is a decline in eggshell strength. This can subsequently result in an increase in the number of rejected eggs, counteracting the economic benefits of keeping birds in lay for longer. 

“The decline in eggshell quality and strength is typically due to the fact that as the laying cycle progresses, eggs get bigger while the hens’ calcium metabolism becomes disrupted. This can result in weak eggshells as well as a reduction in bone strength. 

“All the calcium deposited on the eggshell comes from the feed therefore gut health status is key to effective absorption. 

“Complementary strategies which improve calcium absorption and regulation can therefore prove vital in maintaining egg quality and bird health, especially in ageing flocks,” says Mr White. 

Crediton Milling has been encouraging their customers to include the probiotic bacteria Bactocell in layer diets for many years, to enhance the digestive and protective functions of the birds’ guts. 

“Including a specific probiotic bacteria to the diet can help to optimise feed efficiency, supporting good quality egg production, while also strengthening the birds’ natural defence mechanisms so they are less susceptible to disease.  

“It can also help stabilise the pH within the gut, improving overall health and reducing mortality,” Mr White explains.

Improving eggshell quality

Demands for calcium rise with age in correlation with increasing egg size and should be closely managed from pullet stage through to the end of the laying cycle.  

“Calcium within layer diets is regulated and adding too much to try to counteract the calcium deficit can result in its excretion into the kidneys, which is detrimental to bird health. 

“Therefore, to ensure hen laying longevity, it is important to maximise calcium metabolism and absorption efficiency throughout the laying cycle,” explains Miss Elliott. 

“Calcium metabolism in laying hens is a dynamic process which can be heavily impacted by environmental changes such as light and biochemical deficiencies of minerals, vitamins, and hormones. 

“In addition, as hens age, the efficiency of calcium metabolism typically reduces and this can cause deficiency related disorders, specifically osteoporosis, as well as impaired eggshell production.”  

She advises that Bactocellshould be included in diets as early as possible to help with calcium retention throughout the laying period.

Benefits of feeding Bactocell on calcium metabolism

New research shows that adding Bactocell™ – a specific probiotic bacteria –  to birds’ rations can also play a key role in supporting calcium metabolism, delivering additional eggshell quality benefits. 

“Recent trial work involving Hy-line brown laying hens studied the different dietary requirements over a 16 week period and found that the inclusion of Bactocell can lead to more balanced and stable calcitriol levels within the bird1 

“Calcitriol is the hormone that regulates calcium absorption and reabsorption from bones, and therefore plays an important role in the maintenance of eggshell quality,” adds Miss Elliott. 

Figure 1 – Effect of Bactocell on blood markers of calcium metabolism

A further study was conducted involving 50-week-old Hy-line brown hens which were divided into two groups and fed separate diets. One group received a standard diet following generic recommendations and the other received the same diet plus the probiotic bacteria, Bactocell 

The trial results showed that while both flocks started with similar levels of calcium and phosphorus in the first week of the trial, after 14 weeks the retention of both minerals was significantly higher in the birds that received Bactocell supplementation.  

This suggests better utilisation of the dietary minerals which support eggshell quality.

Figure 2 – Effect of Bactocell on calcium and phosphorus retentions (%; p<0.05)

Miss Elliott adds that while producers are seeking least cost diets due to high feed prices and unfavourable market conditions, this can often prove to be a false economy and bird nutrition must be considered in the context of the entire laying cycle. 

“The inclusion of a specific probiotic bacteria in all layer diets may seem unnecessary during the start of the laying cycle, but the improvements in gut health efficiency it delivers in tandem with the increased longevity of egg-shell quality, offers a beneficial return on investment (ROI).”