Good pasture vital
CAREFUL pasture management is vital to ensure free-range units run successfully with minimal welfare concern.
Suzanna Russell, poultry consultant based at ADAS Gleadthorpe, Notts, stressed that poor pasture management can cause build-up of parasitic worms, coccidiosis and poor welfare. Diarrhoea, loss of condition, reduced eggs size and numbers, poor yolk colour, cannibalism and even death can all result.
"Bad management can also lead to sub-clinical problems, where there are no symptoms, but production is reduced. The effects could be the difference between profit and loss, particularly in the current market."
Worm eggs can live in the ground for many months, meaning reinfestation is likely and so subsequent flocks can become infected. "Use a paddock rotation. Allow hens access to about a sixth of the area for eight to nine weeks then move to the next paddock."
In summer, chain harrow paddocks, as sunlight kills worm eggs, and keep grass short, ensuring hens have no access to coarse trimmings. "When reseeding, choose a seed mixture of short, resilient grasses."
She advised ensuring pullets are wormed before delivery, while hens should be immune to coccidiosis if the feed programme during rearing is correct, but producers should watch for symptoms.