Egg handling

Egg Handling

The moment an egg is laid, physical and chemical changes begin to conspire against freshness. Warm temperatures encourage those changes, so newly laid eggs must be gathered frequently and refrigerated quickly.

Some eggs are still gathered by hand, but in most production facilities automated gathering belts do the job. Gathered eggs are moved into refrigerated holding rooms where temperatures are maintained between 40 and 45° F (5 and 7° C). Humidity is relatively high to minimize moisture loss but should not exceed 80 percent. Sometimes eggs are oiled as they are gathered.

Feed Quality

Feed

Since more is known about the nutritional requirements of the chicken than of any other domestic animal, it is not surprising that rations are scientifically balanced to assure layer health along with optimum quality eggs at least cost.

Because care and feeding of hens, maintenance, sanitation and egg gathering all take time and money, there is a strong trend toward automation whenever possible. Automatic feeders, activated by a time clock, move mash through troughs in the floor or past the cages. Birds at floor level drink from troughs. Those in cages may sip from such sophisticated accessories as self-cleaning drinking cups or nipple valves.

Most poultry rations are of the all-mash type. They are made of sorghum grains, corn, cottonseed meal or soybean oil meal depending upon the part of the country in which the ration is produced and which ingredient is most available. The feed is carefully balanced so that the hen gets just the right amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Today's hen eats a better balanced diet than many people! The hen's ration may contain the same types of additives approved for human food. Antioxidant or mold inhibitors (also used in mayonnaise and bread) are added to maintain the quality of the feed. And, like people, chickens occasionally require an antibiotic. An additive is not approved for use in poultry feed unless adequate research has been undertaken to determine its pharmacological properties and possible toxicity and to discover any potentially harmful effects on animals. Hormones are not fed to poultry in the United States.

How much a hen eats depends upon the hen's size, the rate of egg production, temperature in the laying house and the energy level of the feed. In general, about 4 pounds of feed are required to produce a dozen eggs. A Leghorn chicken eats about 1/4 pound of feed per day. Brown-egg layers are slightly larger and require more food.

Egg quality is affected by the type feed. Shell strength, for example, is determined by the presence and amounts of vitamin D, calcium and other minerals in the feed. Too little vitamin A can result in blood spots. Yolk color is influenced by pigments in the feed. Maximum egg size requires an adequate amount of protein and essential fatty acids.

Laying House

The laying house

In today's egg laying facilities, temperature, humidity and light are all controlled and the air is kept circulated. The building is well insulated, windowless (to aid light control) and is force-ventilated. Birds are either given the run of the floor area or are housed in cages. Most new construction favors the cage system because of its sanitation and efficiency, but floor operations are also in use.

Light control

Of primary importance both during the growing and laying periods, controlled, low-intensity light can be used to delay sexual maturity until the bird's body is big enough to produce larger eggs. Today's laying hen doesn't need to depend upon the fickle sun to tell her when laying time has arrived. Intensity and duration of light can be adjusted to regulate production.

Temperature

Laying houses maintained between 57-79° F (14-26° C) keep the hens comfortable.

Humidity

A relative humidity between 40 and 60 percent is best.

Genetics

Genetic pattern of the breed of hen

Maximum production of top-quality eggs starts with a closely controlled breeding program emphasizing favorable genetic factors. The Single Comb White Leghorn hen dominates today's egg industry. This breed reaches maturity early, utilizes its feed efficiently, has a relatively small body size, adapts well to different climates. These hens also lay white-shelled eggs, the color preferred by most consumers. Because brown-shelled eggs are favored in the New England region, the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire and Plymouth Rock breeds predominate in that area of the country.

Resistance to disease

Selective breeding is reinforced by good sanitation and vaccination.