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Egg Quality and Quantity

How to boost poultry egg production and improve egg quality

Good and stable egg production and good egg quality are of utmost importance to farmers depending on their layers’ output for a living. Well reared pullets will generally deliver better layer performance than poorly reared ones. Read about improving egg production profits with pullet weight management

Boosting chicken egg quality means mitigating negative factors (e.g. mycotoxins or pathogens) while relying on advanced feed additives or supplements to achieve top results. Read more on factors that affect eggshell quality.  

Factors that negatively influence layers

Poor management practices, feed and environment-related issues and diseases are some of the factors which may cause a negative impact in egg production and egg quality.  

Besides these, animal-related factors, such as age and strain of layer birds must not be disregarded. Older birds and birds after molting are known to produce bigger eggs with thinner shells and indigenous strains cannot quite compete with commercial layers in terms of number of eggs produced. 

Several management issues (see table) may lead to nervous birds and/or traumatic lesions in the ovary which cause poor egg quality (fragile shell/bloodspots/meat spots). Nutrition wise, improper balance of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D may lead to thin egg shells. Also, large amounts of lucerne/alfalfa meal in the diet can lead to blood spots caused by vitamin K antagonists in this feed ingredient. Interestingly, the use of the drug sulphaquinoxaline may have the same effect as mineral imbalance. In terms of pathogens, infectious bronchitis (IB) causes respiratory disease and kidney damage in growers and oviduct infection in adult hens, which can cause wrinkled egg shells as well as a reduction in eggs laid. 

Due to the liver and kidney toxicity, mycotoxins in poultry feed may negatively impact egg and shell formation, leading to poor egg and shell quality (pale eggs/small, fragile shell/bloodspots/ meat spots).  

A number of mycotoxins cause kidney damage and decrease of egg production (e.g. Zearalenone). Aflatoxins, Ochratoxins, Fumonisins and Oosporein have been shown to nephrotoxic. They cause damage to the kidney tubules leading to polyuria and wet litter. 

For mycotoxin-related problems, prevention can be undertaken through the use of a proper mycotoxin risk management tool which adsorbs and/or biotransforms mycotoxins, thus eliminating their toxic effects for the animals, while guaranteeing liver and immune protection. 

Mycotoxins
Potential CauseDescription of ProblemCheck ListCorrective Action
Aflatoxin B1

Thin shelled eggs due to the disruption of the Vit D pathways through the liver and kidneys resulting in a reduction of the calcium transporting proteins in the blood. 

  • Origin of raw materials from supplier/region with history of Afla contamination.
  • Check average contamination levels.
  • Positive for Afla in raw materials (ELISA) or feed (HPLC). 
  • Prevent mold growth, purchase clean raw materials.
  • Avoid contamination of feed bins or feed/water lines by stale, wet or mouldy feed.
  • Use Mycofix at a correct dosage level. 

 

Ochratoxin A 

Increased numbers of blood and meat spots in the eggs. 

  • Origin of raw materials from supplier/region with history of OTA contamination.
  • Check average contamination levels.
  • Positive for OTA in raw materials (ELISA) or feed (HPLC). 
  • Prevent mold growth, purchase clean raw materials.
  • Avoid contamination of feed bins or feed/water lines by stale, wet or moldy feed.
  • Use Mycofix at a correct dosage level.

Trichothecenes
(T-2 toxin, HT-2, DAS) 

  • Histopathology: Proliferating epithelial cells. Hepatic vacuolization. 
  • Decline in the overall performance of the flock. 
  • Origin of raw materials from supplier/region with history of OTA contamination.
  • Check average contamination levels.
  • Positive for OTA in raw materials (ELISA) or feed (HPLC).
  • Prevent mold growth, purchase clean raw materials.
  • Avoid contamination of feed bins or feed/water lines by stale, wet or mouldy feed.
  • Use Mycofix at a correct dosage level. 

 

Cyclopiazonic acid (CPA) 
  • Potent inhibitor of the Ca2 +-activated ATPase activity of the calcium pump
  • Focal necrosis can be found in liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas, and myocardium. In broiler chicks given CPA, skeletal muscle degeneration characterized by myofibular swelling and fragmentation. 
  • Origin of raw materials from supplier/region with history of OTA contamination.
  • Check average contamination levels.
  • Positive for OTA in raw materials (ELISA) or feed (HPLC). 
  • Prevent mold growth, purchase clean raw materials.
  • Avoid contamination of feed bins or feed/water lines by stale, wet or moldy feed.
  • Use Mycofix at a correct dosage level. 
Nutrition
Potential CauseDescription of ProblemCheck ListCorrective Action
Ca presentation

Layers particularly and also breeders need to store Ca in the gizzard for the period then egg shell production is taking place, throughout the dark period.  Small particle Ca can pass through the gizzard making it unavailable for egg shell production. 

Check the correct particle size Ca is incorporated into the feed. 

Ensure the correct ratio 65% coarse limestone and 35% limestone flour is used. 

Ca: P ratio 

Too high phosphorus can have a negative effect on egg shell quality.

Check the levels of Ca and P in the formulation are correct for the age of the birds. 

Increase Ca; P ratio as the flock ages to improve the requirements for Ca as the eggs increase in size.

Pathogens
Potential CauseDescription of ProblemCheck ListCorrective Action
Infectious Bronchitis virus (IB)

Many serotypes cause drops in egg production accompanied by reduced shell quality and albumen quality. Loss of shell color in brown egg layers is a very common effect of IBV although it may also cause the production of thin shelled, misshapen, and corrugated eggs as well as more elongated eggs. 

  • Isolation in embryonated eggs.
  • Virus neutralization assay.
  • Immunodiffusion in agar gel.
  • Hemagglutination inhibition test (HI).               

Correct vaccination plan. 

Newcastle Disease

Many soft shelled eggs with membranes visible on the manure belts. Misshapen eggs produced by commercial layers previously vaccinated with live vaccines. Eggs were produced 30 days after challenge with vNDV as the only clinical sign of ND. 

SPF embryonated chicken eggs test and PCR.  

Correct vaccination plan.

Mycoplasma

Cause problem in the respiratory tract and within commercial layer flocks, it has also been responsible for salpingitis, reduced egg production and poor egg quality.

Clinical signs and post mortem lesions followed by confirmation in the laboratory using blood (serum) samples for serology or organs swabs for identification by PCR or mycoplasma isolation. 

Correct vaccination plan.

Others
Potential CauseDescription of ProblemCheck ListCorrective Action
Red mites

Birds are stressed (older hens) and a reduction in feed intake might be observed. The decrease in Ca intake leads then to worse egg shell quality. 

Monitor the feed intake. 

Renew the flock. 

Nervous Birds

Can cause traumatic lesions in the ovary.

  • Lighting program.
  • Temperature of the barn.
  • Presence of frights and disturbances in the barn that may get birds nervous. 
  • Correct lighting program.
  • Correct temperature of the barn.
  • Improve management of laying birds. 
Heat Stress

Reduction in eggs shell thickness and color during periods of heat stress due to a reduction infeed consumption and changes in the blood chemistry reducing the transportation of calcium. 

Check the birds for panting. 

Increase air movement over the birds, add electrolytes to the water during the period of heat stress. 

 

The laying house 

The laying house environment is an important factor when it comes to egg production. Temperature and humidity needs to be taken into account when setting bird density. Generally, in the tropics bird density is lower than in temperate areas. Flock health must be of a high standard. There should be a biosecurity plan. Keeping diseases out is better than trying to treat after the outbreak. So consider a good prevention and vaccination program for bacterial and viral diseases. A controlled environment will have different disease issues to open-sided housing. Regular visits by veterinarians are advisable. 

Nutrition 

Getting nutrition right means using technology. The nutrient levels of the feed must be correct for the stage of production. Ingredient quality is of vital importance and selection must be optimal for the area and production goals. Read 15 Factors to Consider When Evaluating and Using Alternative Ingredients.  

Egg handling 

When it comes to handling the eggs, they should be graded and packed as soon as possible after they are laid. The quicker the eggs can be cooled to 4oC the longer their shelf life. Egg should be candled or crack tested to reduce cracked eggs in retail. 

Salmonella 

There must be a food safety plan in place. Control of Salmonella is vital by swabbing the farm to see what is there and use anti-Salmonella treatments in the feed such as organic acids. Controlling Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium is also important. Apart from using organic acid can do also by using poultry probiotics and vaccination. 

Enzymes 

It is now common to use phytase, carbohydrase (xylanase, beta-glucanase, mannanase) and protease in layer feeds. Be careful not to “double-dip” on activities. A number of enzymes are promoted as increasing protein and energy digestibility. If we use more than one enzyme (phytase and xylanase) that claim an energy uplift it should be recognized that you are only going to get the uplift once. The same applies to enzymes that claim improvements in amino acid digestibility (phytase and protease) the effects of each enzyme will not be additive because it will only get the uplift once. 

Boosting production with phytogenic feed additives 

Using phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) also can help to increase the egg production. Here are some trials of Digestarom® in several countries.

Results show improved egg production and enhanced feed conversion ratio (FCR) for a positive return on investment.   

Measuring egg production parameters 

Layers convert an input –feed– into an output—eggs. Flock feed intake measured in grams per bird per day. For big farms it is best done with load cells under silos. It can be estimated by weighing feed for a group of hens into the feed through and weighing leftover feed each day. It’s recommended to do several groups in the house and measure each consecutive day for a week at a time.  

The other is calculating cumulative hen housed egg output. This is the total number of eggs laid per bird originally placed in the house measures the effect of mortality in flocks. This calculation is a good indication of the lifetime performance of a flock. It also can be compared to previous flocks. To record it the farmer needs to keep a count of the total number of eggs produced each week. The daily number of mortalities needs to be recorded and totaled for the week then birds remaining is calculated by subtracting this from the previous weeks remaining bird number. 

Table 2. Improved egg production in multiple layer trials with Digestarom®
Table 2. Improved egg production in multiple layer trials with Digestarom®
Source: BIOMIN
Table 3. Digestarom® trial results showing improved layer performance Source: Digestarom Poultry Trial in Germany, 2015 - BIOMIN
Table 3. Digestarom® trial results showing improved layer performance Source: Digestarom Poultry Trial in Germany, 2015 - BIOMIN

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