Country Fresh Pullets owns 14 pullet-rearing units, which account for about 40% of the company’s total production. The rest of the 6m pullets come from its 35 contract farms.

Production manager John Hurdley sets high standards and he constantly monitors production figures to ensure any blips are caught early and rectified.

Llynclys Farm near Oswestry, Shropshire, is typical of the firm’s units. The 11 houses are home to 76,000 birds and, on a 22-week cycle, produce five flocks every two years. Birds go to customers generally at 15-17 weeks of age.

Problem

About a year ago, Llynclys unit manager Edward Evans noticed a problem in getting day-olds started. “We dosed them with vitamins, but it had little effect,” he says.

Fortunately, Country Fresh Pullets had already carried out a trial of a liquid supplement – Janssen Poultry Tonic – at another unit. It is designed to help birds get off to a good start and overcome periods of stress.

“We had some good results in the trial and decided to try it at Llynclys to see if it would overcome the problem with day olds. The young chicks perked up pretty quickly, the effect was quite dramatic,” says Mr Hurdley.

“Now it is common procedure that chicks on our farms receive the liquid supplement from day-old for about four days and at other stressful times, such as vaccination.”

Vaccination

For example, they are given the tonic before their vaccination at six weeks of age to guard against infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT).

Dave Cunnah, Janssen Animal Health’s pig and poultry manager, says the tonic, given in fresh drinking water, works by providing the essential nutrients birds need from day-old. A key element is the inclusion of nucleotides, used by the body in the construction of specific cells that play an important role in supporting the immune system.

The tonic also contains specially selected vitamins, trace elements, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and electrolytes. Dr Cunnah highlights that all these components are required for the sound development of birds, for their growth, feathering, bone formation, and their metabolic, reproductive and immune systems.

Stress signs

Stress caused by factors such as disease challenge, vaccination, excess heat, moving and regrouping is known to adversely affect poultry production costs, and the output and quality of meat and eggs.

One important sign of stress can be reduced feed intake. Fortunately, this tonic increases both feed and water intake as well as supplying the nutritional essentials that birds need, especially when stressed, says Dr Cunnah.

At Llynclys Farm, about 30 round trays are placed in each house for the tonic. “It takes a little time, but the results make it well worthwhile,” says Mr Hurdley. “Birds drink more and then their appetite improves. They quickly regain lost ground.”\

Case Study – Richard and Sandy Gough, Shropshire

An egg producing unit in Shropshire is one of several farms to benefit from Country Fresh Pullets’ recommendation of a liquid supplement, solving a recent production problem in their layer flock.

Husband and wife Richard and Sandy Gough moved into egg production about 10 years ago with 12,000 birds in one house. They now have 52,000 birds in four houses supplying Nobel Foods.

They operate a single-age site on an all-in, all-out basis with four staff on the unit at any one time. Spent hens are cleared, there is a total clean-down and new birds are introduced over a three-week period.

The couple buy 17-week-old birds, generally three different breeds, from Country Fresh Pullets.

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But two years ago the unit hit a production programme, says Mr Gough. “We had difficulty putting weight on birds; we were getting white (shelled) eggs and mortality rates increased. Providing vitamins appeared to have little effect.

“We tried the tonic and birds recovered very quickly and we now routinely use it to combat periods of stress. When it’s used, we see a difference in egg quality, numbers and egg condition.

“If you can do this when birds are suffering, then it is helping them to maintain growth and overcome stress.” The trick is to catch birds early enough, he advises. “Don’t leave them failing to eat or drink. An extra day with the problem makes it harder for them to regain weight and condition.”

He adds: “We like to see birds recover within a week of receiving the tonic. If the problem persists, then we know it is something more than stress and we have post-mortems carried out to find the cause.”