Grow­ing a qual­ity pul­let

The Poultry Bulletin - - CONTENTS - This is an edited ver­sion of an ar­ti­cle first au­thored by John G. Brown.

Aprof­itable com­mer­cial egg op­er­a­tion de­pends in large mea­sure on the qual­ity of pul­lets raised or bought. A good pul­let is the most im­por­tant fac­tor in the on­set of pro­duc­tion, reach­ing tar­get egg size, and max­imis­ing egg num­bers. It is im­pos­si­ble to make a good layer out of a poor pul­let.

A good start

The first three days is crit­i­cal for the ini­tial de­vel­op­ment of the pul­let. Since the baby chick can­not ther­moreg­u­late its body tem­per­a­ture, proper en­vi­ron­men­tal tem­per­a­ture dur­ing the first few days is nec­es­sary to main­tain the chick’s body tem­per­a­ture by pro­vid­ing for the chicks ther­mal com­fort zone. The tem­per­a­ture must be main­tained be­tween am­bi­ent tem­per­a­tures of 31°C to 33°C. Max­i­mum growth is re­alised dur­ing the first three days when the tem­per­a­ture is ap­prox­i­mately 33°C. Rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity lev­els of ap­prox­i­mately 60% are also im­por­tant in get­ting the chick off to a good start.

Dif­fer­ent rec­om­men­da­tions abound re­gard­ing feed­ing the chick first or al­low­ing the chick to get wa­ter be­fore feed­ing the chick af­ter ar­rival. This de­pends on the sys­tem and the ex­pe­ri­ence of the pro­ducer. Both ap­proaches can be very suc­cess­ful. In­ter­mit­tent light­ing dur­ing the first few days has been shown to im­prove first week live­abil­ity by al­low­ing the chick some rest pe­ri­ods dur­ing the first few days and also stim­u­lat­ing

feed and wa­ter con­sump­tion when the lights come on.


For the chicks to have suf­fi­cient room to grow and reach the tar­get body weights with good uni­for­mity, cages should be stocked to en­sure the 17-week-old pul­let has at least 280 square cen­time­tres per bird for white egg pul­lets and 310 square cen­time­tres for brown egg pul­lets. Less space than this can lead to stalls in body weights as the pul­let’s age and lead to poorer uni­for­mity of body weights and frame de­vel­op­ment.

Beak trim­ming

Trim­ming the beak is one of the most dif­fi­cult ser­vices done to the grow­ing pul­let. A good job of trim­ming the beak can help re­duce feed wastage, pre­vent can­ni­bal­ism, and im­prove prof­itabil­ity. A poorly per­formed beak trim can ruin a pul­let. The UEP An­i­mal Care Cer­ti­fied pro­gram des­ig­nates that the beak trim be com­pleted by 10 days of age. Blade tem­per­a­ture should be set based on the breed of the pul­let be­ing trim, as some breeds han­dle higher tem­per­a­ture cuts bet­ter than other breeds. The use of the term cherry red to de­ter­mine the cor­rect blade tem­per­a­ture can lead to in­ac­cu­rate re­sults. A cherry red to in one house may be as low as 370°C and as high as 650°C in an­other house. It is very im­por­tant to use a tem­per­a­ture gauge to ac­cu­rately mea­sure tem­per­a­ture of the blade for more con­sis­tent re­sults. The crew that per­forms the trim should have plenty of light ad­justed onto the blade to en­sure an ac­cu­rate depth of the cut. It is crit­i­cal to run Vi­ta­min K for sev­eral days be­fore the beak trim is started and for the en­tire length of time the crew is beak trim­ming the flock.

As an­other op­tion for beak trim­ming, there is a process per­formed in the hatch­ery that uses in­frared en­ergy to “treat” the beak at a day of age. This re­sults in the tip of the beak slough­ing off at ap­prox­i­mately 7-10 days with lit­tle pain to the chick and lit­tle detri­ment to the growth of the pul­let.

Body weight and uni­for­mity

One of the best tools that is avail­able for the pro­ducer to de­ter­mine how well the pul­let flock is grow­ing is body weight and uni­for­mity. Mea­sur­ing the body weights of a flock should be­gin when the flock is ap­prox­i­mately four weeks of age and should be mea­sured ev­ery other week through peak pro­duc­tion. The same birds should be weighed each time and it is im­por­tant to select cages in var­i­ous ar­eas of the house rep­re­sent­ing out bound and re­turn sides is houses with chain feed­ers, top tier and bot­tom tier cages and side to side in the house. This will en­sure a true av­er­age that should re­flect the av­er­age bird in the house. All birds in each weigh cage should be weighed. The uni­for­mity should be the per­cent­age of birds with 10% above and be­low the tar­get of that age bird. Tar­gets for uni­for­mity should be 80%.

Re­act­ing to the re­sults of the mea­sure­ments is more im­por­tant than tak­ing the mea­sure­ments. If the pul­lets are un­der­weight steps should be taken to cor­rect this and help the flock reach the tar­get weight. Some of the tech­niques used to im­prove weight in­clude in­creas­ing feed­ings, length­en­ing feed­ing times in case the feed is not get­ting to all the birds con­sis­tently, cool­ing the house tem­per­a­tures down, and adding small amounts of en­ergy to the feed for short pe­ri­ods of time to in­crease en­ergy con­sumed. If uni­for­mity is low, it is com­mon to use stacked feed­ings to im­prove the lack of uni­for­mity.

Light­ing pro­grams

The use of the rec­om­mended light­ing pro­gram is also very im­por­tant to en­sur­ing the timely on­set of pro­duc­tion and al­low­ing for ad­e­quate body weight gains dur­ing grow. Each breeder has a rec­om­mended light­ing pro­gram start­ing at day of age. Mak­ing cer­tain that the pul­let light­ing pro­gram is paired with the light­ing sched­ule in the layer house is very im­por­tant. Never al­low a pul­let to ex­pe­ri­ence in­creas­ing day length be­fore they are ready to be stim­u­lated based on body weight and pul­let age. Like­wise a layer should never be al­lowed to ex­pe­ri­ence a de­crease in day length as this will re­sult in a loss of pro­duc­tion.

Feed­ing pro­grams

The ba­sic nu­tri­tional re­quire­ment of the baby chick is rel­a­tively sim­ple. Most pul­let pro­grams are bro­ken up into Starter, Grower and Devel­oper di­ets. Some pro­grams are more com­pli­cated but ba­si­cally they at­tempt to achieve the same re­sults.

The goal of the Starter is to build the early skele­tal ma­trix (frame) of the bird on which the Grower and Devel­oper will de­posit mus­cle and fat tis­sue.

The Starter di­ets are gen­er­ally high in en­ergy and high in pro­tein with about 1% Cal­cium and 0.5% avail­able Phos­pho­rus.

The Grower diet will then slightly lower the en­ergy and pro­tein while main­tain­ing the min­eral bal­ance like the starter diet.

The Devel­oper diet has the goal of de­posit­ing lean mus­cle tis­sue and some re­serves for the early on­set of pro­duc­tion. Many pro­grams in­clude a pre-lay diet that is de­signed to pre­pare the pul­let for eggshell for­ma­tion. These di­ets are gen­er­ally like devel­oper di­ets yet with higher Cal­cium. This higher Cal­cium in­creases the in­tramedullary bone de­po­si­tion and pre­pares the pul­let for egg pro­duc­tion. Pre-lay di­ets should not be fed af­ter the birds be­gin pro­duc­ing eggs. Layer di­ets should be be­ing fed at first egg.

Vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams

Vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams should be de­signed so as not to add ad­di­tional stress onto the pul­let. Com­bin­ing vac­ci­na­tions that re­quire han­dling wher­ever pos­si­ble is one way to re­duce stress. Proper tim­ing of the vac­ci­na­tions to re­duce or pre­vent vac­cine re­ac­tions also im­proves pul­let qual­ity by re­duc­ing stress on the pul­let. Vac­ci­nate for only the dis­eases for which ex­po­sure is ex­pected or known to be present on the layer or pul­let farm. In other words, it is not nec­es­sary to vac­ci­nate a flock for M.g. that is go­ing to a known M.g. neg­a­tive farm that has good biose­cu­rity.


The first 18 weeks of an egg lay­ing chicken’s life is the most im­por­tant time of its en­tire life. Dur­ing this grow­ing pe­riod the foun­da­tion for pro­duc­tion, live­abil­ity and ul­ti­mately prof­itabil­ity is formed. Close at­ten­tion must be paid to all the ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with the pul­let pe­riod, from light­ing to feed­ing to vac­ci­na­tion to body weight and uni­for­mity. Fail­ure in any one of these can lead to poor pul­let qual­ity and poor layer re­sults.¡

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