Essential Details of Broiler Breeder Management: Robinson's Top Ten

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 The problem
Maximizing chick production from broiler breeders is one of the most challenging components of the Canadian poultry industry. The hatching egg producer is faced with optimizing reproductive traits from a chicken that has been intensively selected for growth rate, feed efficiency and breast muscle yield. Some of the challenge faced by producers relate to the changes in broiler breeder reproductive potential with each generation. Today, a broiler breeder manager needs to know how broiler breeders work to react to what is encountered in their barns, rather than basing management decisions on historical management habits.

The more that can be learned about how birds react to feed, photoperiod and social encounters the better equipped we will be to respond in the way that best suits breeder welfare and productivity.

Know your birds! (or, how to think like a broiler breeder)
For example, you have been feed restricted (you are very good at making use of the energy and protein that you have been consuming). You will be getting feed increases at the time that you are becoming sexually mature, and be sure that you are able to respond to lighting (your body is ready for you to reach puberty). It is very important that you put your dietary energy to the best use possible (don't develop extra follicles, and don't get too fat). Your pen-mates do not have good sharing principles at the feed trough. Knowing these things will give you a good viewpoint for implementing sound management.

Defining the essential details of breeder management is not easy. Most of them are common sense (and bird sense). There are hundreds of essential details, but I have picked my favourite 10, just like David Letterman.

Top ten areas to keep in mind in managing broiler breeders

1. Know the actual weight of your birds.Weigh lots of birds. Get yourself some corrals, some good scales and USE THEM REGULARLY. There is no magic number about how many birds to weigh. Weigh as many as necessary to give you confidence about the mean flock weight and the uniformity score.
2. Weigh birds the same time each day. .
Particularly when breeder pullets or cockerels are fed on skip-a-day feeding, they can vary tremendously in body weight depending on the time elapsed from the previous feeding. Weigh as many birds as possible on the non-feed day, and do so at the same time each week.
3. Flock Uniformity is very very important. Wouldn't it be easy if all birds were identical, so that all would be at the same reproductive condition at the same time! As such is not the case, know that factors that impact on flock uniformity include: initial chick weight and chick quality, competition for limited resources (feed, water, good air), and strain and individual bird differences in aggressiveness.
4. Avoid high nutrient density diets. One of the principles to keep in mind is that the more volume of feed is available, the greater likelihood is there that all birds will be able to eat to gut capacity. If they eat to meet their gut capacity, flock uniformity should be better. Don't feed such a low density diet that would preclude feed clean-up. Feed left in the feeders is the bird's way of saying that they can not or will not consume that much feed (above requirements). The challenge is to be able to tell why the requirement may have been reduced (decreased egg production, less activity in hot weather, reduced drinking water availability etc.).
5. Make sure pullets are at the minimum threshold weight at lighting.Lighting underweight pullets results in fat hens and poor egg production. If birds are under the breeder target body weight, delay photo stimulation until they meet or exceed the target. In most cases, delayed photo stimulation does not reduce egg number, and it should increase egg weight to what is required for shipping to a hatcher sooner. It will help bring together flock uniformity if birds are lighted later rather than earlier
6. Don't make fast increases in feed intake coming into production. The critical time in a pullet's life is from 20 wk of age until peak production. The role of an active ovary producing estrogen hormones at this time should not be underestimated. Estrogens change the liver to result in the production of yolk lipid. Unfortunately, breeders are not too good at knowing when enough of this yolk deposition is enough, and they produce excessive follicle development. The situation gets worse when birds are overfed during this critical time. Consider trying very small feed daily increases instead of a larger increase once a week. A bird's metabolism is more fine-tuned than needing a once a week adjustment. Remember broiler breeder management is all about fine tuning.
7. Know what you are doing in managing post-peak feed withdrawal. Knowing when to take away feed it much like knowing when to sell stocks on the stock market....(follow egg production, body weight, egg weight).
8. Keep and open mind - birds are changing every year (what worked the last flock may not work this year).
Pay attention to technical reports from breeder companies and keep an open mind.
9. Don't put your flock on "AUTO-PILOT". Good things come to those who stay on top of their production efficiency before problems happen.  Be a detail person. Keep a journal about day-to-day observations. Record the following: drinking water intake, feed clean-up time, egg quality (membranous eggs), floor eggs, mortality, egg size etc.
10. Stop complaining and be a positive person who is learning more all the time!
Be thankful for what we have: Light-controlled housing, Usually good spacing between poultry production units, Long cold winters (better than long hot summers ?!?) a committed informed service personnel.

F. E. Robinson
Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

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This information published to the web on October 28, 1996.
Last Reviewed/Revised on November 13, 2007.