Breeding Second-Year Hens
Brian Check- [email protected]
How long do you breed a flock of hens? This is a question I often hear as the Breeding Flock Coordinator. The short answer is as long as your system will allow. There are some benefits for breeding 2nd year or older hens as well as some disadvantages. Let’s take a look at these.
The primary advantage of breeding older hens is a quicker response to artificial lighting and an earlier start to the laying season. Generally this will lead to higher production for the year. How this fits into your operation must be evaluated and the whole system must be looked at. Questions to ask your self are: can you sell earlier chicks/eggs? Will you have good cover/weather for poults on earlier birds? From here you need to evaluate the cost of holding breeder stock for the off season, versus taking the labor to select a new flock.
When holding breeders over the off-season, you want to take extra care of these hens by giving them around 17-19 square feet per bird. Also needed is some kind of shelter, whether it’s a cover crop or artificial shelters, plenty of feed space and water access. As you approach your laying season, place your birds into the breeding pen densities to give them plenty of time to acclimate before the on-set of laying. This technique should reduce stress on the flock and allow for a healthier flock overall.
As you start to stimulate your breeders you will find the older hens respond quickly to artificial lighting and will start laying at 12-13 hours of light where first year birds may not lay until you are up to 14 hours of light. This gives you a surge in the beginning so you won’t have to hold eggs as long for your first set.
The disadvantages are found when you answer this question: does the early production meet your operations needs and goals? Remember there are costs of holding breeders over the off-season such as keeping them longer provides exposure to potentially become carriers to certain illnesses.
Like many aspects of this industry, using recycled breeders has many facets to consider in determining if it can be applied to one’s operation to improve production.