There are a number of factors that can contribute to waste in a caged layer facility, including genetics, environmental control and feed quality. The following checklist is a logical starting point to implement a quality control program to reduce feed wastage:
1. Reduce physical wastage in the system. Adjust augers and chains to reduce any feed spills. Make sure that all feed troughs are adjusted as to height and that any holes or imperfect joins are repaired to avoid spillage. Check time clocks to ensure full delivery is made to all hens without over-filling of troughs and spillage over the outer lip. If feed accumulates on the floor there is spillage.
2. Monitor flock feed intake. Ensure that there are no sudden increases in feed intake in your flock. Sudden increases could indicate a defect resulting in spillage. Keep records to compare actual intake with breed standard. Irregularities and deviations from standard must be investigated. Have hens gained weight? Is the house cold? Are spills evident?
3. How often are feed lines operated? Research has shown that running the line more than twice daily will improve access to feed by all hens and enhance feed efficiency. Care must be taken to avoid an accumulation of fines and unconsumed feed in the troughs.
4. Provide high quality feed free of mycotoxins, mold and feedstuffs that have low palatability. If hens refuse to eat normal quantities, a problem exists. Unconsumed feed is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly to avoid deterioration in quality and mold growth.
5. Monitor house insulation and ventilation systems for ideal temperature control. Insulation is much less expensive than having to heat the house through the production of metabolic heat from feed. Usually insulation is maximized at the time of construction or during remodeling. If house temperatures are not maintained between 70-80 F, the flock will consume up to 2 lbs/100/day more feed than at a lower temperature. As the industry increases cage space allowance to meet Animal Welfare guidelines, maintaining house temperature has become more challenging.
6. Monitor body weight and gain, case weight and grade distribution. Overfeeding hens to achieve excessive body weight gain and egg size is in reality a waste of feed if there is no incremental return for extra large eggs. This consideration does not necessarily apply to breaker operations. Research supports maximum egg mass when hens are producing large grade eggs with optimum rates of egg production. Maintaining heavy hens to produce larger grades is not an efficient use of feed.
7. Evaluate strains of hen to select the lowest feed maintenance cost to optimize egg mass given specific housing and environmental conditions. Management of hens and selection of strain and body weight differ considerably between a breaker and a shell egg operation. There will be some low-hanging fruit to pick in order to reduce feed wastage. After the mechanical defects and leaks are repaired, emphasis needs to be given to fine tuning record-keeping, quality control, and adherence to goals for egg mass.