With hens now inside for several weeks, the closer confinement of birds greatly increases the risk of internal parasites. Ideally, birds will have been wormed at the beginning of the housing order, so now will be a good time to revisit FECs and to treat if needed.
Hens enjoy a varied selection of enrichment, however the same enrichment for too long can mean it loses its attraction. Assess what is still working, and swap things around or introduce different items to keep enrichment fresh. This will keep hens active and using destructible enrichment will help release aggression.
Optimise the environment
Check the performance of the ventilation system as part of the everyday management routine. Small increases and decreases in temperature can affect feed consumption, and therefore egg size and mass, but also impacts the environment. Take some time when walking the shed to assess air and litter quality. Make slight adjustments to find the happy medium where the environment is the best it can be.
With no hens out on the range and the pop holes closed, the higher numbers of hens on the system at once can have a warming effect on the waterlines. This can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria within the lines and consequently the growth of bio film. This impacts not just hen health and performance, but also the functionality of the lines themselves. Regularly clean waterlines, using products that remove the bacteria while being safe for hens to consume.
Inspect for red mite infestations
While hens are indoors, there is potential for the air in their environment to be warmer and more humid than usual, which can encourage the growth of red mite populations. Red mites can consume huge quantities of hens’ blood, increasing the risk of stress and disease.
Take time to inspect the system for colonies, especially in the dark and hard to reach areas, and treat appropriately. Regularly set up red mite traps to assess red mite population growth. This is an easy way to understand whether numbers are increasing and can inform a control plan for any infestations.
Decrease light levels to
Take some time to sit in the shed and observe hens’ behaviour. Look for signs in case they are agitated or flighty, and for any fighting or aggression. Slow and steady decreases in lighting levels can help control many behavioural issues.
Walk the shed in the
A great method for spotting early warning signs of a challenge is to walk the shed at night once the lights are off and the hens settled. Take a quiet walk around the shed and take note of any noises which you may not hear during the day when there are higher levels of activity. Listen out for unsettled hens and investigate the cause.
Also pay close attention to the environment and air quality. Are there any unusual noises from the ventilation system that may be disturbing the flock? The nighttime rest period is a hugely important time for hens as they relax and sleep, while their bodies work hard to produce the next egg.
Carry out range
With hens off the range, there is a perfect opportunity to carry out any maintenance work which is required. Walk the range and look for potential issues such as pools of water. These need to be filled in to prevent the hens drinking dirty water once they are allowed out again.
Fences are primarily there to keep pests out, preventing any attacks on the hens. Check whether there are any signs of pests gaining access to the range. A fox can easily kill 30 hens in a single attack, and if it is brash enough to enter the shed through a pop hole then the impact can increase 10-fold. Ensure the fence is up to the job. It needs to be high enough to stop pests coming over the top and constructed in a way that will prevent them from digging underneath.
We are in this current housing order to protect poultry businesses from the risk of avian influenza. Effective biosecurity needs to be in place and maintained, to reduce risk of transferring AI into the sheds. Visits to the unit should be kept to a minimum, while attention to detail and discipline from everyone working and visiting the unit will play a key role in its protection. Feed areas need to be clean and it is crucial that facilities are available to enable vehicles and people that do need to visit the unit are cleaned and disinfected.
For further advice on how to manage hens while they are housed, speak to a member of the Wynnstay Poultry Team.