Continuing on from Part 1…

Point of lay – (16+ Weeks)

Figure 1: A hen displaying nest making behaviour.

Nesting for hens

At this point egg laying hens have a strong motivation to nest build – which is triggered by hormones released at ovulation. Chickens will exhibit pre-laying behaviour which includes searching for a nest site, nest building and sitting on a nest. Layers will generally lay their egg at the same time each day and will go through the same routine each day when they lay. A chicken may walk around looking for a nest, sit on the nest, stand up again and scratch about a bit until it is comfortable before settling down to lay.

If denied a nesting area, a hen will likely keep going through the pre-laying motions and become frustrated – leading to egg retention for a longer period than necessary. Investigations have shown that chickens have more motivation to find a discrete nest site than searching for food, even when they are hungry. Therefore it is important to provide numerous discrete nest sites as well as materials for chickens to build nests with.

Lighting

Another important aspect to consider when the flock begins to lay is ensuring there is adequate means of lighting for up to 15 hours a day with a dark rest period of a minimum of 9 hours. If this is not provided then the hens are likely to produce less eggs overall. When chickens have reached the stage of laying, it is important to provide oyster shell or other high calcium products into their diet. Hens will use a lot of calcium to build the shell of their eggs meaning that their bones will lack the nutrition they need to keep healthy. As such, they need supplementation.

Figure 2: A chicken pen provided with adequate nesting locations and space.

Pecking order

Chickens are very social animals and should always be kept in groups. A ‘pecking order’ is formed from the moment the chicks hatch and this will often involve some normal squabbling behaviour (pecking, chasing and fighting). However, if there is not enough space provided, this can become dangerous for the chickens at the bottom of the hierarchy.

This behaviour is an important part within the group social structure and allows for any future disputes to be settled quickly. Higher ranked birds will often control the feeding spaces, this makes feeding almost inaccessible for the lower ranked birds as they are usually chased away from feeders by the others. Therefore, it is important to provide numerous feeding and drinking stations at different levels to give all birds a chance to eat and drink. If there are certain birds being excessively bullied, even after a period of around two weeks (this is usually how long it can take for newly introduced birds to establish a pecking order), you must either: provide the flock with more space; increase/change the enrichment or remove the bullied individuals to a separate enclosure with other non-aggressive birds. Either option will prevent unnecessary suffering of the animal which in turn, could lead to death.

Animal Health and Welfare

Feed

To keep a flock of hens happy and healthy, regular maintenance is essential. The flock’s health can be supported by providing them with the right feed. The age categories present in the flock should be considered when selecting their feed as different stages of lifecycle require higher concentrates of specific nutrients. Providing them with the wrong feed could have a dramatic impact on their development so it is crucial to get the feed correct from the moment they hatch.

Parasites

Another important factor is managing unwanted parasite burdens and lice infestations, which can be attained by monitoring worm burdens and checking in feathers for signs of lice, together with worming and treating the birds as necessary. Pasture management is also a key part of managing parasite infestations within a flock. It is critical to maintain the cleanliness of their housing to ensure the birds remain in good health. This can be achieved by regularly mucking out, refreshing bedding, cleaning feeders, water sources and equipment. Whilst in the process of cleaning the housing, it is a good opportunity to move enrichment around or add in new items; by doing this, it will keep the birds mentally stimulated so that no behavioural issues such as feather pecking, bullying, egg eating and aggression arise

If you have not read part 1, click here.

Produced by ACT.