Every day before I retire to bed, my manager texts me two pieces of information. One is the number of eggs laid and second, any illnesses or deaths reported in the flock.
In addition, every month, I sit down with him to review the records that include those of vaccination, illnesses and deaths, eggs laid, equipment inventory, task list for the month, profit-loss accounts and the visitors’ book.
This time, I was particularly interested in egg production. If you recall, I recounted (Seeds of Gold, July 30) that egg production fell drastically in June from between 50 and 70 per cent to below 20 per cent. The vet diagnosed an infection and after prescribing an antibiotic, the numbers shot up again.
The egg production sheet has six columns indicating the date, number of eggs laid, total number of hens, hatch rate, feed frequency and type of feed.
I normally concentrate on the fourth column—hatch rate. This is the number of eggs divided by the total hens expressed as a percentage.
On this day, I noticed that the column for hatch rate was blank.
“I am not sure whether there is improvement or not,” I said perfunctorily as I looked at the column, with Cleophas my manager sitting opposite me.
I noticed the usual wry smile on his face. Every time I see this smile on Cleophas’ face, I know he is concocting some ideas.
“Why don’t you plot the numbers on a graph to add a visual component?” he suggested.
Now, I had never thought about that and I hate drawing graphs. However, I decided to consult Mutanda, the guru of line graphs in our office.
SHIFTING EGG PRODUCTION TRENDS
He shared a simple excel sheet in which I then entered the numbers, and, voila, a graph appeared automatically. I was now able to visually illustrate the egg production story over two-and-a-half months, save for one problem — I couldn’t account for all the ups and downs.
Here is the gist of the story. At the beginning of July, egg production was at 25 per cent according to the graph, but by the end of that month, it had risen to about 60 per cent.
There was a simple explanation. In June, the hens had some illness for which the vet prescribed treatment, which worked.
What I found puzzling were the months of August and September. In August, there was a slight fall, followed by a rise, and then a drastic fall to a low of 10 per cent. In September, I started from a low of 15 per cent but after 10 days, production had reached 60 per cent.
“What was going on here?” I wondered. You probably know that productivity in animals is dependent on four things: genetics, disease control, feed conversion efficiency and feed quality.
However, I could only explain three of the four factors. For sure, the hens showed no signs of illness between the July and September period.
Undoubtedly, the genetics had not changed. Also, I always test my feeds and the quality was okay. In fact, the experts I have consulted in the past have been in agreement on this: “Poor quality feeds lead to slow growth, low egg production, diseases or even death.”
Of course, I ruled out theft by servant or the form of cannibalism I have faced before where hens eat their own eggs.
Now, to understand what was going on, I relied on two experts.
First, Sophie Miyumo of Egerton University explained that besides good feeding, I should consider light management of the birds during the pullet stage—eight to 20 weeks. “Chickens are sensitive to changes in lighting and this in turn, influences laying”
Another thing she said was that improved indigenous birds should not be overfed during the growers’ period (nine to 18 weeks) because the excess weight gained affects consistency of egg production later.
I was relieved when she told me that unlike exotic layers that have an egg laying rate above 80 per cent, improved indigenous birds are bred specifically for meat production as opposed to egg production, meaning, their optimum laying rate is between 50 and 70 per cent.
Something else I learnt was this: “Assess the age of the birds because as they grow older, their production drops.” My hens are barely into their one-and –a- half-year laying cycle, meaning, they have not reached the two-year laying peak when production naturally starts declining.
Now, for September, the advice of Dr Mugachia of Gardenvet to de-worm the hens and give a multivitamin supplement seems to have done the trick.
However, he cautioned, “The closeness of the younger birds to the hens could mean that the hens are infected with mycoplasma. Mycoplasma infection is a slow spreading disease which causes severe drop in egg production in laying flocks.” With the graph, right now I can account for my egg production since the start of the year.