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Feeding the Laying Hen

The nutrition recommendations are based on supplying a given amount of nutrients per day to each hen. The recommended amount of nutrients is provided in milligrams or grams per day and one must therefore know (or accurately estimate) the hens' daily feed intake in order to calculate the dietary percentage inclusion of each nutrient. The diets should be formulated on a digestible amino acid basis according to desired egg production, egg weight, eggshell quality, and observed feed intake (see below). The level of egg production is mainly controlled by the energy intake, whereas the egg weight is affected—not controlled—by consumption of balanced protein and fats.

Formulating for feed intake
The hens' feed consumption rate is governed by several factors, including body weight (or age), rate of egg production, egg weight, effective ambient temperature, feed texture, dietary nutrient imbalances, and dietary energy content. The latter is especially important, because hens tend to increase or decrease feed consumption to maintain energy intake within a given range determined by the hens' physical capacity for feed intake. In other words, hens will attempt to consume more of a low-energy diet than of a high-energy diet. Only in special cases (such as nutrient imbalances or marginal salt deficiencies) will the hens adjust their feed consumption to meet their needs for specific nutrients, but usually not with great accuracy.

Accurate and frequent estimates of actual flock feed intake are critical to effective feed formulation. Because the hens' feed consumption rate can vary with age of the bird, effective ambient temperature, and dietary energy content, the diet's concentration of energy and nutrients should be carefully considered such that the diet provides the recommended grams or milligrams of nutrient intake.

For example, with an observed feed consumption of 95 g/day and a recommended daily calcium intake of 4.10 g/day, the dietary calcium concentration should be 4.32%:

(4.10 g Ca needed × 100) / 95 g feed consumed = 4.32% Ca in the diet

Similarly, if the recommended digestible lysine consumption is 750 mg/day, the dietary concentration of digestible lysine should be 0.79%:

(750 mg lysine needed × 100) / 95 g feed consumed = 0.789% lysine in the diet

Should the daily feed consumption decrease to 85 g/day (for instance due to increased effective ambient temperature or an increase in the dietary energy concentration), the hens fed the above diet would consume only (85 g × 4.32% =) 3.67 g calcium and (85 g × 0.79% =) 672 mg digestible lysine, which is significantly less that the recommended amounts. The same is true for other nutrients and energy. As a result, eggshell quality, egg weight, and egg production may decrease. Therefore, with a feed consumption of 85 g/day, the dietary concentrations of calcium and digestible lysine should be adjusted to 4.82% and 0.88%, respectively, to ensure the recommended calcium and digestible-lysine intakes of 4.10 g and 750 mg, respectively. This principle is demonstrated in the nutrition tables where the nutrient levels are expressed on a percentage basis according to the feed intake.

Feeding at start of lay
Formulating for the observed feed intake is especially important at onset of lay. The daily feed intake is relatively low in the time between the onset of egg production and peak egg production (18 to approximately 32 weeks of age). Yet, it is important to provide the hen with adequate nutrition at this time to sustain increases in body weight and the high demands for egg production—remember that even though the whole flock's egg production is 50%, the hens that are laying eggs lay 1 egg per day (corresponding to 100% egg production for the individual hen). This high demand for energy and nutrients should be met, but can be difficult because of the relatively low feed intake at this age. Therefore, it is recommended to start feeding a fairly concentrated diet, formulated for a relatively low feed intake, and then change the diet to a less concentrated diet as the feed intake develops with age. Suggested nutrition programs are available for each of Hy-Line's laying hens.

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