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Commercial Egg Production and Processing
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October 21, 2013, 02:30:47 PM
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  • Abiodun
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            Introduction and Overview of the Poultry Industry: The poultry industry is vertically integrated, which means the industry has a tremendous amount of control of their products.  It is distinctly different from many other animal industries.  In that egg producers own and manage nearly every aspect of their business (e.g., rearing of birds, feeding, housing, husbandry, and marketing of their product) and are capable of meticulously monitoring the entire process.  Poultry producers usually do not own the primary breeding stock (i.e., the parent lines supplying their operation), these birds are purchased from primary breeders.

Raising Layers (Leghorns): The purpose of this section is to provide a general overview of a typical layer cycle in terms of chick placement, vaccination schedules, lighting, heating/cooling, feeding, molting, and removal of layers.  Keep in mind, there are a number of ways to rear laying hens.  It would be very unlikely that any two companies rear layers exactly the same way.  However, all companies use a slight variation of the typical rearing program detailed in this section.   Management differences for rearing layers may be accounted for by economics (breed selected, vaccination package and decision when to molt), producer preference (breed and strain selected), and/or geography (breed selected and vaccination package).

Hatching and Placement: Egg producers purchase their layer stock (i.e., day old leghorn chick) from an egg-type hatchery.  Hatcheries deliver chicks to the producer within one to two days of hatching. At arrival, chicks are either placed in typical layer pens or reared in a pullet house.  At the hatchery, chicks are vaccinated according to the producerís specifications.  For details regarding a typical vaccination schedule see Table 1.

Lighting and Temperature: Lighting and temperature conditions for a typical layer production period are shown in Tables 2, and 3 respectively.  For those chicks reared in layer cages, a biodegradable mat is generally placed in the pen.  The mat allows chicks to better locate feed while also providing time for the chicks to slowly adjust to the wire mesh floor.  Within a week, the biodegradable mat is removed or degrades into the litter pit.  A single layer cage may occupy as many as fifty chicks, but as they mature, cage density is lessened.  Chicks placed in pullet houses are reared on a floor covered with absorbent materials, such as pine shavings.  During the first week, pullet chicks are usually beak trimmed.  Pullets started on the floor remain there for approximately 10 to 15 weeks and then move to a layer facility.  In either case, from chick placement through approximately 16 weeks of life, the pullets are fed according to body weight gain and/or age.  The goal is to raise a strong and healthy bird that can support egg production.  As noted in Table 2, daily light exposure (photoperiod) begins to increase at Week 16.  This increase in light exposure triggers hens to begin laying eggs.  If the laying hen has not reached proper body weight (usually 3 lbs.) by Week 18, egg production will cease very quickly, following the onset of the laying period.  Hence, it is important for the young laying hen (pullet) to attain the proper body weight that will support egg production.  In tandem with light manipulation, the diet is also altered in order to support egg production.

Feeding: It is assumed that layers, unlike birds raised specifically for meat, regulate their feed intake.  Layers are generally reared on full feed (ad libitum).  The feed is offered to birds via the chain system.   The chain system transports feed into the metal feeder at precise times during the day.  In general, 2 inches of feeder space is allotted per pullet and 2.5 inches or more for each adult laying hen (Animal Care Series, California Poultry Workshop, 1998).   Table 4 illustrates the dietary protein and energy recommendations based on age in of typical layer.  Young birds are fed a high protein diet (20 percent) during the first few weeks of life.  This level continuously decreases until it reaches approximately 12 to 15 percent protein during egg production.   In addition to monitoring dietary protein, producers must closely examine other ingredients.  During the laying phase, lysine, methionine, calcium, and phosphorus are precisely monitored to support maximum egg production.

Egg Production: As shown in Table 2 and Table 4, producers begin to photostimulate and manipulate the diet around 18 weeks of age in order to support egg production.  Minor nutrients have also been manipulated such that calcium levels in the diet are approximately five to seven times greater than phosphorus levels.  When a flock (group of hens) first enters egg production, the rate of egg lay will be around 10 to 20 percent.  This means that 10 to 20 percent of the hens are laying eggs at 18 to 22 weeks of age.  The flock quickly reaches peak egg production (90 plus percent) around 30 to 32 weeks of age.  Post-peak egg production (after 30 to 32 weeks of age) continually decreases to approximately fifty percent around 60 to 70 weeks of age.  At this point an economic decision must be made by the producer; fifty percent production is near the "break-even" point for egg producers (e.g., feed cost = market price of eggs).  When the flock reaches 50 percent production, producers commonly decide to molt the flock in order to achieve a higher level of egg production.  As a rule of thumb, it takes approximately 10 weeks from the beginning of a molting program to be back at 50 percent production following the molt.  Post-molt egg production will increase such that peak egg production reaches about 80 percent.  Peak production following a molt is short-lived and the flock generally returns to 50 percent production by 100 to 110 weeks of age.  Many producers (one-third to one-half) will induce a second molt, this is the same process that occurred at 60 to 70 weeks of age.  The second molt is commonly dictated by the current egg prices and the availability of replacement pullets.  As previously stated, once flock egg production falls below fifty percent, an economic decision is made whether to molt the birds or the hens to a spent-hen processing facility.  The majority of hens are between 100 and 130 weeks of age when they reach the end of their egg production cycle.  The time span between 100 and 130 weeks of age can be accounted for by management decisions.  Thus hens may be molted a second time and then sent to a spent hen facility (120 to 130 weeks of age) or sent directly to a spent hen facility following the first molt (100 to 110 weeks of age).  After the flock vacates the layer house, the house is stripped of all organic matter and sanitized before another flock enters the house.

Egg Collection: In layer facilities, there are two primary methods of egg collection, a) in-line facilities, and b) off-line facilities.  In either case, hens lay eggs onto an angled wire floor which rolls the egg toward the  front of the cage (floor angle is generally eight to ten degrees) onto a nylon belt.  The belt transports eggs out of the house either to the egg processing facility or to a storage cooler.  Since the processing facility and cooler remove eggs from the house, based on hourly demand, eggs may reside on the belt for as long as 12 to 14 hours, but most are collected within a few hours post-lay.  The first type of layer facility is the in-line facility.  In this facility, eggs move directly from the layer house to the egg processing facility.  Once the eggs enter the egg processing center, within minutes to 12 to 14 hours post-lay, they are washed (detergent solution near 100o F, pH 11.0 that removes soil), visual inspected (checked for eggshell problems, cracks, and blood spots), and then graded for packaging.  Following packaging, eggs are moved to a cooler room (40-45o F), where they await shipment to retail outlets.  Egg producers commonly deliver eggs to retail outlets within one week of lay.  The second type of layer facility is the off-line facility.  This facility functions nearly identical to the in-line facility except that the eggs are transported out of the house directly to an egg cooling room.  In this method, the eggs remain in the cool room for approximately two to three days, and then they are transported to an egg processing facility via a refrigerated truck.  These eggs are treated identically as those from the in-line operations. 

Table 1. A typical vaccination schedule for leghorns1.

Week of Vaccination                Type of Vaccination
Day old                                Marek's
15 days                                (1/2 dose)   Infectious Bursal
20 days                                (1/2 dose)   Infectious Bursal
25 days           Bronchitis, New Castle, Infectious Bursal (Typical Brand name Combo Vec. 30)
30 days           Bronchitis, New Castle, Infectious Bursal (Typical Brand name Combo Vec. 30)
49 days           Bronchitis, New Castle, Infectious Bursal (Typical Brand name Combo Vec. 30)
10 Weeks           Fowl Pox and Laryngotracheitis (commonly referred to as LT)
12 Week           Combo Vac 30
13 Week           Avian Encephalomyelitis (commonly referred to as AE)
16 Week           New Castle

 Table 2.  Lighting program for the leghorn.

Age                                                        Amount of Light (L) and Dark (D)
0 to 3 Days                                           22(L):2(D)
3 days to 1 Week                                   20(L):4(D)
1 to 2 Week                                           18(L):6(D)
2 to 3 Week                                           16(L):8(D)
3 to 8 Week                                           14.5(L):9.5(D)
9 Week                                                   14(L):10(D)
10 Week                                                  13.75(L):10.25(D)
11 Week                                                   13.50(L):10.50(D)
12 Week                                                   13.25(L):10.75(D)
13 Week                                                   13.0(L):11.0(D)
14 Week                                                   12.75(L):11.25(D)
15 - 17 Week                                           12.5(L):11.50(D)
18 Week                                                   13.50(L):10.50(D)
19 Week                                                   14.5(L):9.5(D)
20 Week                                                   15(L):9(D)
21 Week                                                   15.5(L):8.5(D)
22 Week                                                   15.75(L):8.25(D)
23 Week                                                   16(L):8(D)
24 Week                                                  16.25(L):7.75(D)
25 Week throughout production cycle   16.5(L):7.5(D)

Table 3. Temperature control during a layer cycle.

Week                               Temperature (F)

1                                              90
2                                              85
3                                              80
4                                              75
5                                              70
6 throughout layer cycle              70
Table 4.  General Feeding Guidelines for Layers.

Nutrient           Starter            Grower              Developer            Pre-Layer              Layer
                       0-6 wks           6-8 wks             8-15 wks              15-18 wks
Protein%          20.0                   18.0                 16.0                          14.5                    15.0                                                                                                   
Met.Energy,   1325-1375       1350-1400        1375-1425             1350-1400         1300-1450

« Last Edit: October 21, 2013, 03:42:04 PM by Abiodun »

February 06, 2014, 05:59:38 AM
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1. Conventional cage eggs - are produced from hens living in communal cage systems. There are multiple cage systems, depending upon the size of the birds, and the facility as well. Farmers that utilize the cage system participate  in handling and care practices as well. While providing hens with access to fresh food and water, cages also work as nesting space. Cage-laid eggs are collected with an automatic collection system. Cage systems help protect against predators.

2. Cage-free eggs - are laid by hens living on indoor floor operations, sometimes called free-roaming hens. The hens are usually housed in a barn or poultry house, and have unlimited access to fresh food and water, while some may also forage if they are allowed outdoors. Cage-free systems vary and include barn-raised and free-range hens, both of which have shelter that helps protect against predators. Both types are produced under common handling and care practices, which provides floor space, nest space, and perches. Depending  upon the farmer, these housing systems may or may not have an automated egg collection system.

3. Free-range eggs - are produced by hens raised outdoors or that have access to the outdoors, as weather permits. Shelter is provided during inclement  weather and to help protect from predators. In addition to having continuous access to fresh food and water, these hens may forage for wild plants and  insects and are sometimes referred to as pasture-fed hens. These hens are  also provided with floor space, nest space, perches. Free-range hens also are cared for under common handling and care practices.

4. Organic eggs - are produced according to national USDA organic standards related to methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products. Organic eggs are produced by hens fed rations having ingredients that were grown withoutmost conventional pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. Antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited (growth hormones are also prohibited in conventional systems as well). All organic systems are cage-free.

5. Other Egg Facts

    The nutrient content of eggs from the same breed of hen fed the same diet is not affected by whether hens are raised free-range or in floor or  conventional operations. It is solely determined by the feed.

    Approximately five percent of eggs come from cage-free systems and they are typically more expensive than conventional eggs. Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, free-range eggs are generally more expensive.

    Research has indicated that hens kept in cage-free or free-range systems have higher rates of mortality than those kept in conventional production systems.

    Research shows that eggs from modern conventional systems have lower shell bacteria levels than eggs from cage-free or free-range eggs.

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