Common issues in layer pullet care

Several experts shared their experiences about the most common problems in egg-type pullet management.

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During the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March, 2007 several experts on commercial egg production addressed the most common problems in pullet management.

Walt Dunham from Centurion Poultry in Georgia and Frank Johndrew from Hy-Line in Iowa both agreed that the main problem in pullet-raising is poor record keeping. 

The solution, according to Dunham, is to make sure the producer has adequate charts, material, anything necessary for record keeping. Daily mortality information, water consumption, etc. should be recorded, so that when there’s a problem, one can look back at last few days to see what has taken place.

Jondrew agrees, noting that at the very least you should record: body weights every two weeks starting at four weeks of age; daily mortality; daily water intake; weekly feed intake; starting number of birds for each delivery (and total) and delivery dates. Other necessary information includes: vaccination program including dates performed, manufacturer, serial number, who performed the vaccination and route of application; lighting program with completion dates and feeding program with change dates. A comparison of body weights and feed consumption with breeder standards would also be helpful. These records need to be taken routinely and accurately. Pullet farm employees must be taught the importance of this task.

They also agreed that vaccination is one of the key problems. From Dunham’s perspective, the producer needs to find out what vaccines are used in the area, and then set up a program that is successful, according to breed. Make sure the grower understands proper administration.

For Jondrew, one has to ensure that the vaccination program is designed for your specific challenges. This varies by geographic area and from farm to farm within your company. Ensure that your employees are well trained and the training continues. Make sure your employees understand the importance of what they are doing. Monitor all contracted crews for accuracy and “takes”. Draw blood at least once during the grow period (16 weeks) to monitor the protection of the flock. 

Production problems

From that point forward the two disagreed on the other problems and their solutions. 

For Dunham, early temperature control is an important issue. His solution is to make sure the producer knows what temperature is needed at chick level to start day old chicks (according to breed) and how much to decrease temperatures each week thereafter. Thermometers should be distributed throughout the house.

Another problem that Dunham sees is ventilation. The producer has to have an adequate number of fans to move the required amount of air which can be critical during hot weather. In cool weather, temperature comes more into play, as pullets will consume more feed if cold. Exact temperature needed depends on house and weather conditions. His saying is “warm as possible and still have good air quality” in cold weather. 

Finally, Dunham sees body weight and feed changes as a common problem. The solution is to make sure there are management guides available, and understand the breeder goals as to age and weight. Feed changes need to be made at the correct time, according to breeder recommendations or a qualified nutritionist. 

Johndrew thinks that poorly understood lighting programs are a serious issue. A lighting program needs to be designed with your layer production goals in mind. The lighting program needs to be strain specific and must be tailored to local housing (both pullet and layer) and time of year.

He also sees poor biosecurity as a common and important problem. The solution: do not let outsiders into the pullet facilities. If they must visit, make sure they are suited up in biosecurity gear and have not been on other farms.

Do not share employees and equipment between farms. If you must, make sure the employees start at the pullet facility and then proceed to layer farms. If you do share equipment, make sure it is cleaned prior to entering the pullet facility. 

All access points need to be locked and have clean foot baths, at all entrances. 

Educate all employees in the importance and consequences of biosecurity. 

Finally, improper beak trimming is a problem Jondrew sees. Check the beak trimming crew periodically to ensure that there is no excessive bleeding, that the blades are not too hot or too cool, blades and equipment are properly maintained and that the beaks are of the desired length. 

Beak trimmed birds should be evaluated again at twelve weeks of age to ensure there are no bubbled beaks, missed birds and grow back. Make sure you are trimming beaks with the strain of bird in mind. Each strain of bird has specific needs. Also keep in mind the type of housing these birds are in and will be in as layers. 


Eddie Steinberger of Intervet went into further detail about problems arising from pullet vaccination programs. Steinberger recalls what he was taught when he first started with Intervet. The three biggest problems with vaccinations are:

1) administration

2) Administration


Keep in mind what you are trying to achieve, he says: to deliver an adequate dose of a viable vaccine to the proper site in each bird. Then we need that vaccine to stimulate a full immune response. 

An issue he sees when there is a disease outbreak is that some people are reluctant to get lab confirmation. That may lead to vaccinating for the wrong disease. It’s always best to confirm what the problem is.

Common sense prevails: use good equipment and good procedures, provide ongoing training and supervision for the vaccination crews.

What is the target organ in the bird for the vaccine that you are giving? New

Castle/Bronchitis is the respiratory tract, IBD is the bursa, LT is the respiratory tract, MG

is the respiratory tract, and AE and coccidiosis is the digestive tract. Now, how do you get the vaccine to those target organs by the most efficient means possible?

Spray vaccination

Just telling someone to spray-vaccinate a flock leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Will you be using distilled water or tap water? Steam distilled water is always best. 

What size of droplet do you want or need?  Coarse spray, 100 microns or larger, can be considered an upper respiratory vaccination or a mass eye drop vaccination. Coarse spray can be used for initial live Newscastle/Bronchitis vaccines and it can be used for Cocci and IBD and possibly LT and AE. 

You can physically see the chicks being vaccinated and which ones are being missed. Chicks will shake their heads as they are getting a coarse spray vaccination. Take time to watch their response as they are being sprayed. The chicks need to be calm as you are spraying. Ventilation needs to be reduced or off when spraying, but can be turned on again right after the spraying is done. 

Fine spray administration, about a 50 micron droplet, is excellent for revaccination of New Castle/Bronchitis and possibly LT revaccination. Lights are dimmed or off to calm the birds. Ventilation is greatly reduced or off when spraying, but can be turned on again right after the spraying is done.  

Very fine spray administration, 20 microns or smaller, is excellent for spraying MG and some farms also use this for their final live NewCastle/Bronchitis. With this size of droplet, fans are off and stay off for a while after spraying.  Lights are again dimmed or off. 

Drinking water vaccination

It sounds easy, mix up the vaccine in water and put it in front of the birds so they can drink it, but it’s not quite that simple. Birds should be water starved for about 2 hours before vaccination. Vaccine should be in front of the birds for about 2 hours.

Check the water meter the day before vaccination during the same time for a more accurate amount to use. How much water will it take to flush the water lines full of vaccine? Use blue dye to make sure that the vaccine is at the back of every water line.

Lights should be off when flushing the vaccine into all the water lines. 

How old are the chicks? Water consumption in the first 2 to 3 weeks of a chick’s life is very erratic. Use clean non-chlorinated water for vaccination.

Eye drop administration

Keep the vaccine cool until it is to be used. Use the droppers that come with the vaccine when re-hydrating the vaccine. Write the time on the dropper bottle, if there is still vaccine left after one hour it should be discarded. Make sure a full drop gets into the eye of every bird. Shortly after vaccination you can check the back of the tongue for staining if blue dye is used. 

Wing web vaccination

Use the stabbers that come with the vaccine. The two-pronged stabbers also spread the vaccine over a larger area in the wing web. Use a new stabber with each 1-2 bottles of vaccine. Hit the center of the wing web, not the muscle or bone. Write the time on the bottle, it should also be used in 1 hour. Check for the vaccine reaction “takes” in the wing web 7 to 10 days post vaccination. 

Injection of inactivated vaccines

The vaccine should be warmed to at least room temperature, preferably 90 F. Heating the vaccine will allow the vaccine to flow easier through the tubing and syringe and reduce reaction at the injection site. Check each bottle for a broken emulsion (white vaccine on top, coffee colored water at the bottom). Use a new needle with each bottle of vaccine. Injection sites include the neck, breast or leg. Calibrate the syringe to the proper amount.

Vaccinate vs. immunize

Gil Warriner of Fort Dodge Animal Health said that anyone can vaccinate pullets, but not everyone can immunize pullets. 

Among the problems Warriner sees is chlorine in the water for either water vaccination or spray vaccination. One can purchase chlorine test strips, from your local pool and spa store, which will give you an indication of chlorine levels. The solution is to use second-generation vaccine stabilizers, which are available for both water and spray vaccination. 

Water temperatures can also be an issue with spray or water vaccines, especially temperatures over 70F.  Bronchitis vaccine livability, at 1 hour after re-hydrations, may be reduced by 25% in a 68-degree water solution, but it can be reduced by 55% in a 77-degree solution. The solution is to store the distilled water in a cool location, before use, and do not deliver it too soon to the pullet house.

Another problem is too much water volume in the water system, to do a good job of water vaccination in young pullets. You need a well or water system, which delivers a large volume of water and use more than one high volume proportioner. Flush the system full with the majority of the stock solution. Encourage water consumption by feed simulation.

Too long of a water withdrawal period before water vaccination, during warm weather, causes problems. The recommended solution, during warm weather, is to turn the lights off, fill the water lines with vaccine solution, then turn the lights back on and simulate the feeders. During cool weather, you may be able to use the dark cycle as the water withdrawal time period.

Another issue is the improper injection location of the killed vaccine into the breast muscle. The best location is mid point between the start of the keel bone and the shoulder joint, where the breast muscle is the thickest. It can be very difficult to get the crews to move this far forward. They like to be even with the start of the keel bone or even behind this point. It’s very easy to end up with the vaccine in the body cavity.  The solution is to find a few roosters and have a crewmember inject them. Next, sacrifice the roosters and show the crewmembers where they injected the vaccine, and where you want it injected.

Finally, there’s the issue of not using the vaccine up fast enough. This applies to AE/Fowl Pox vaccines that need to be used within a one hour time period. Some vets feel LT is a little more livable than AE, but it is also very easy to damage. A good crew person will wing web about 600 birds an hour, over an 8-hour day. If you give each crewmember a 1000 dose bottle of AE/Fowl Pox vaccine, they will likely not get the vaccine used up fast enough. The solution is divide 1000 dose bottles of AE/Fowl Pox vaccine between two crewmembers. Do not allow vaccine to be carried over break periods.

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