Select good laying hens



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Content: Learn to identify the good and poor laying hens in your flock. Don’t waste feed on poor layers. Keep your egg production high.

Do you know how to identify hens that are not laying as many eggs as they should? If you remove the poor, unhealthy layers from the flock and replace them with good layers, you’ll keep your egg production high and you won’t waste money on feed for hens that aren’t laying eggs. Also, when you remove sick hens, you reduce the chance of spreading disease to your other hens.

Today, we’re going to talk about how you can identify good and poor laying hens in your flock. First, look at the hen’s head. Observe the red comb on top of the head. The comb should be large, bright red, and waxy-looking. Look also at the red, loose, fleshy part called the wattles that hang under the bird’s beak. The wattles should be large, bright red, soft, and smooth. A hen that’s not laying has a pale, shrunken comb and pale, rough, dry wattles. Also, look at the hen’s eyes. A good layer has bright, alert eyes; a poor layer has dull, sunken eyes.

When a hen is laying a lot of eggs, she loses the yellow colour in her beak, skin, and around her eyes. This is because the yellow colour in her body is going into the eggs. So a good laying hen has no colour in her beak, around her eyes, or in her skin. A hen that is not laying has a yellow colouring in her body.

Now pick the hen up and look at the area around where the eggs come out. This is called the vent. This part of the hen should be large, moist, and partly open if the hen is laying lots of eggs. A poor layer has a vent that’s small and dry. While you are still holding the hen, try to place a number of fingers between her pelvic bones. You can put three or more fingers between the pelvic bones of a good layer. You can put four fingers or more between her breastbone and pelvic bones. Also, look at the feathers around the tail; they may be ruffled and broken because the hen goes to the nest often to lay eggs.

A secure way to hold the hen while you are examining her is to hold her by the legs or ankles between your fingers and thumb, with two or three fingers between the legs. The breast should sit in the palm of your hand. Handle the hen gently when you examine her.

It’s good to check the hens about once a month. When you collect eggs, watch for birds that have just laid so you can get a good idea of what a bird looks like that is laying eggs. Watch them at feeding time. Healthy birds will run to the feed when you put it out, but unhealthy birds or birds that aren’t laying will be slow and may not be interested in the feed.

Remove birds that are sick so they don’t spread disease to other birds. In flocks of less than 50 birds, you might want to remove the sick birds and put them in a pen by themselves to see if they recover. If they do get better, they can go back with the others. But make sure you know that they are healthy again before you put them with the others. In larger flocks, it is probably better to destroy the sick chickens.

Once again, here are the characteristics of a good laying hen:

– large, red comb

– large, red, smooth wattles

– bright, alert eyes

– colourless skin, beak, and eye area

– large, moist vent

– three or more fingers fit between the pelvic bones

– four or more fingers fit between the pelvic and breastbones

– broken or ruffled tail feathers

Information sources

1. Practical poultry raising (2015 edition), by Kenneth French. Peace Corps, Washington, D.C.

2. DCFRN participant Chibuzo Obi, National Root Crops Company Limited, Enugu, Nigeria.