Poultry questions and answers


Date: 21 September 2014

Dear Joanna Palmer,
Dear Practical Poultry,

with great interest I read your article "Seasonal Fayre" in the current edition of Practical Poultry and found it most enjoyable. There are three questions that I would like to ask to you:

In your article you mention the critical day length for layers and that the hormonal egg stimulation ceases due to shorter days and longer nights in autumn/winter. You recommend that additional lighting could be put in place to mimic a longer day. I would like to know what the critical day length for egg stimulation in laying chickens is and from what months onwards I would need to apply the supplementary lighting to reach this critical day length in hours. I got LED lights. They require very little energy, but I wonder, of they also transmit the right wavelenght. Surely light quantity is one thing, but light quality (the right wave lengh) is another -- or do I make things too complicated ?

I mix layer pellets with corn. In your article you mention that feeding chickens soley on free range pellets is sufficent, as long as they get their 100 - 150 g/day. So really should I mix pellets with corn or should I feed corn only or pellets only. Does one exclude the other ?

I know that DEFRA forbids feeding animals with kitchen wastes e.g. left overs from meals and cooking. However, I have not understood the rationale behind. Surely, the salt and sugar contents of "our food" might not match the requirements of chickens, but are there any other reasons behind, that I am not aware of ?

Once again thank you for the thought provoking article.
Yours sincerely
Markus Radscheit


Date: 29 September 2014

Dear Markus

Thank you for responding to my recent article in Practical Poultry magazine. The editor of the magazine has expressed his desire to feature your questions on their letters page in November’s Practical Poultry, however I wished to reply directly to you first in order to answer your questions in full.

1. Research suggests that the optimum day length to stimulate egg laying in hens is 15 hours. While most pure bred hens will stop laying when day length is less than 15 hours, some hybrid hens will continue to lay through the winter but at a reduced rate. Artificial light can be provided in the hen house to encourage hens to lay through the shorter day of winter. Any additional hours of light should be provided in the mornings thorough a simple light controlled by a timer so that the hens can go through the natural roosting process as dusk falls in the evening. The light should be hung in the centre of the house so that the largest possible area of the house is illuminated. The best light to use is one which mimics the spectrum of sunlight, normal incandescent bulbs, halogen lights that produce a yellow coloured light and warm-white fluorescent lights all work well. It is important to remember that every hen is hatched with the number of eggs she will lay in her lifetime already predetermined by the number of ova in her ovaries. So although providing artificial light may prolong her laying season, it will not increase her lifetime productivity as she will simply be laying more of her potential egg output in a shorter space of time.

2. Layers pellets should be fed as a complete feed on a free access basis. The addition of a little mixed corn as a treat is fine but it should be fed separately late in the afternoon so that the hens have had all day to eat sufficient pellets to meet their nutritional needs. Corn should not be mixed in with the pellets as many hens will simply pick out the grains in preference to the pellets. This can lead to hens eating too much corn and not enough pellets which can unbalance their diet and adversely may affect the quality and quantity of eggs produced.

3. Not only is human food unsuitable for chickens in terms of its nutritional content, but DEFRA laws prohibit the feeding of any catering waste which includes any food from domestic kitchens to livestock and poultry. This broad ban was introduced in the aftermath of the outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease in 2001 to try to prevent further disease outbreaks. Even vegetarian kitchen waste is banned as it could potentially be contaminated with meat products. The following link to DEFRA’s website should hopefully clarify this further for you: https://www.gov.uk/supplying-and-using-animal-by-products-as-farm-animal-feed

If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.
Kind regards
Joanna Palmer BSc (Hons)