June 1, 2020

Better Feather Coverage with Hy-Line


Hy-Line varieties are known throughout the layer industry to have superior feather coverage throughout the life of the bird. This equates to healthier appearance during production, better feed conversion and higher profits at the end of lay.

Achieving better feather cover is an enduring progression of selecting generation after generation for improved feather cover. Once achieved, it is hard for others to replicate. Since beginning field tests in the 1950s, Hy-Line has collected performance data from birds in family cages at the commercial level. For 60 generations of selections, Hy-Line genetics have been selected against feather pecking. For more than 25 generations, Hy-Line has selected against high residual feed intake, which is associated with poorer feather cover.

Causes of Poor Feather Cover

Feather loss can occur naturally as part of a hen’s aging, but there are many factors that can promote it. Direct reasons for feather loss include: feather pulling by the hen or by other birds, external parasite infestations (mites, fleas, etc.), mechanical abrasion, and molting (induced or spontaneous in old birds). It can be significantly increased by mechanical, nutritional, and environmental conditions, and by poor bird’s health, stress and antagonistic social interactions. Housing type and bird density are also important considerations. Lighting programs, including light type, sources, photoperiod, and light intensity also must be managed properly to reduce feather loss.

Healthier Appearance During Production

The Hy-Line varieties have healthier appearances in production systems. In countries with heightened awareness of animal welfare, the Hy-Line birds appear more animal-welfare friendly. This is especially important for cage-free and free-range systems. With feather pecking and aggression at a minimum in Hy-Line varieties, the birds maintain their feather coverage. Hy-Line birds receive better welfare audit scores for feather coverage and livability. Feather coverage is also important in free-range birds to protect them from the sun and to reduce eggshell color fading.

Better Feed Conversion

Birds lacking good feather coverage spend more energy trying to maintain body temperature in both cold and hot climates. This results in increased feed consumption and poorer feed conversion. With feed being the highest-cost input for layers, farmers need birds that will put energy into egg production, not thermal regulation.

Higher Profits at End-of-Lay

In many countries, farmers earn higher value for their Hy-Line birds at end-of-lay due to better feather coverage. Markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America trade spent hens at live markets. For this system of trade, retaining an acceptable feather cover is an advantage, as it greatly influences buyer preference and price. Purchasers of end-of-lay hens prefer and will even pay a premium for a fully feathered bird. Additionally, poor feather coverage results in more scratches on the skin and IP or infectious process.

With the superior feather cover of Hy-Line varieties, farmers can have confidence they are getting the most from their Hy-Line birds for better profitability.