Alternative Feeds for Mid- to Large-size Pasture Raised Layer Operations
This project was intended to find the most productive means of feeding layer hens on pasture during the summer months. I began to prepare last spring by setting in motion all that goes into a project like this. My goal was to begin mid-June of 2012.
Like most of our country, the lack of rain began to take its toll on the grassy pasture at this very time. Grass quickly began to slow in regenerating itself and practically became dormant. Right after the grass failed, the insect population suffered as well.
Two of the three main reasons for pasturing laying hens are the grass and insect access. Those being absent made the feed consumption rise higher than I have ever seen in summer.
Soon after, the third reason for pasturing hens, sunshine, began to be overbearing. Indiana recorded a solid record of high temperatures for six weeks, with the average daily temperature over 100 degrees F daily (which is high for Indiana). The lack of grass, insects, and the over powered sun stressed hens so that they had a very hard time just staying cool and healthy.
I installed extra shade for all of them and double checked their water as it evaporated right out of their drinkers within hours. By this time, it was so hot and miserable the hens dropped their eating to a minimum and egg production declined along with it. They began to lose weight.
By this time, all the water in the creeks and ponds around our area were dried up and since I had water sitting out for my hens, it became clear that the local predators were more desperate to break in, grab a drink and chicken (or egg) dinner on a regular basis. I countered by nightly patrols and traps for the four legged thieves. Which helped the issue a lot, but not completely.
I strongly debated bringing the birds back into the winter places in our barns. The only reason I decided not to was the fact that it would be hotter in the daytime. Plus it would add stress to an already stressed bird just through the process of moving them.
For me, my father and even my grandmother, it was the worst year we all had ever seen farming. However, to be fair to other farmers across the USA, we were much better off than most. We finally received a late August rain.
We received that slow, half-inch soaking rain that afternoon in August (during which I danced in celebration). It was not much water, but it was more than we had seen in months. The brown began to give way to its glorious green and the dust was cleaned form the air. Nature, half starved, was back in business! The weeks that followed were such a blessing due to many nice soaking afternoon rains.
But the toll of two month’s worth of heat stress, weight-loss, predator haunting and poor egg production, forced me to keep their feed the same as to not add any more changes to their already awful season. I am happy to say by the time the fall nights began to frost the layers were back up to a normal weight and production. A very good thing heading into winter.
My decision to not test supplemental feeds during the trials of last season was not an easy one but for the sake of my laying flocks, completely necessary for their own health and livelihood. I stayed with the feed I knew would work for their needs as they commanded all the help I could give.
My project timeframe ends one year from this month. I fully anticipate my ability to fulfill all the project points and stay true to the budget this season. (Pending another hiccup by mother nature.) I am eagerly looking forward to finding out what other feed sorts may lower the production cost of these fantastic eggs for my own economic benefit and sharing the results with the world!
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
I have laid out the next season, beginning in the peak of the grazing season, June through August. I have nearly doubled my laying flock size. This allows me to run multiple tests at one time under the same natural conditions – allowing a more accurate reading of the data and no change to the overall plan.
This coming season the farm has tours scheduled through our family business, Moody Meats. (See: www.moodymeats.com) I also have budgeted funds for a photographer to attend and photograph the process and compile a small series of photos. Further outreach exposure is via our company followers on FaceBook as I constantly snap photos and post captions as the opportunity arises.
Further Exposure will be through the intern who will be helping with the project and working along side the process as a whole. He is quite excited about coming to the farm for two months this summer.
By the end of the grazing season in the summer of 2013 I hope to have fully fulfilled my study parameters and compiled my results. Specifically, separate tests exploring three different feed substitutions for the laying hens. Each test will cover a six week timeframe for data compilation.