Classes of poultry
There are four classes of poultry commonly raised in Saskatchewan:
- Egg-producing chickens (laying hens)
- Broiler meat chickens
- Ducks and geese
With the exception of ducks and geese, commercial poultry production systems are supply managed, meaning that national marketing agencies control the amount of product produced on a provincial level to stabilize prices and farm income across Canada. Consequently, commercial producers are required to hold quota rights to produce and sell their product, and production by non-commercial producers with small backyard flocks is limited by provincial regulations. Unregulated poultry production allowed per year in Saskatchewan before quota rights are required is as follows: laying hens, 299; broilers, 999; and turkeys, 99. Producers who wish to raise birds in the excess of these limits must purchase quota to do so.
Anstey Hatchery Ltd. in Saskatoon is the only non-commercial hatchery in the province that supplies turkeys, meat chickens, egg layers and dual-purpose chickens that are suitable for both egg and meat production. Depending on the year, waterfowl may not be available from Anstey Hatchery due to the risk of waterfowl introducing infectious disease into commercial poultry flocks.
Egg-producing chickens / laying hens
Commercially, Saskatchewan Egg Producers produce table eggs. In 2017, there were 66 Saskatchewan registered egg farms that collectively housed 1.5 million laying hens. These produced approximately 32-million dozen eggs.
Day-old chicks are purchased from hatcheries that specialize in hatching egg-production pullets (young hens). Pullets are reared to 19 weeks of age by egg producers or pullet growers until they are ready to begin laying eggs. The egg production cycle lasts about one year. The majority of hens come from White Leghorn strains that lay white-shelled eggs. In commercial production, both pullets and hens are primarily raised in cage systems in environmentally controlled barns. However, there is an increasing number of producers switching to enriched cages or to free-run/aviary systems. Egg Farmers of Canada announced that layer producers will be transitioning from conventional housing systems by 2036, meaning that battery cages will no longer be used.
Feeding, watering and egg collection are automated on almost all production sites.
The majority of commercial eggs produced in Saskatchewan are graded, sorted and distributed by Star Egg in Saskatoon to customers in Saskatchewan and western Canada. Recently, there have been consumer-driven increases in specialty egg production, such as omega-3, folate and lutein-enriched eggs, as well as free-run and organic eggs.
Laying hens are chickens raised for table egg production and have a smaller body frame and body weight than chickens grown for meat. Two types of chickens are used for egg production purposes in small flocks: dual purpose and egg producing breeds.
Egg-producing chickens have been bred for maximum egg production rather than meat yield, and can produce up to 300 eggs per year. These chickens are usually of the White Leghorn type and lay white eggs, although brown egg layers are also available. They have a mature body weight of 1.8 to 2.0 kg (four to five lb.).
Dual-purpose chickens are raised in small flocks for both meat and egg production. They are smaller than commercial broilers, but reach a mature body weight of approximately 2.5 kg (5.5 lb.) for females and 3.0 kg (6.5 lb.) for males. The hens will produce 200 to 250 eggs per year. Typically, the eggs are brown. Typical breeds include Rhode Island Red crossed with Barred Rock, Columbian Rock or Light Sussex.
There is no difference in nutritional value of white and brown eggs.
Guidelines for brooding and rearing chicks are available on the General Brooding and Rearing Poultry web page. If pullets are purchased just prior to laying, it is important to obtain information on the management procedures used including lighting, feeding and vaccination programs, as well as disease exposure. This history will aid in planning flock management and assist in determining causes of any production problems.
Pullets should weigh approximately 1.25 to 1.55 kg at the start of egg production.
Proper light management is important when raising pullets to obtain maximum egg production. Lighting will stimulate egg production and synchronize the pullets so that they start to lay at approximately the same time.
If pullets are raised in a windowless barn that is light-tight, the day length should be controlled with a time-clock. During the brooding and rearing period control of light and dark periods are important for the health and welfare of the birds. Chicks require a minimum of two consecutive hours of daylight for each 24-hour period, as continuous light can have a negative impact on eye development and the bird's ability to rest. Periods of darkness can be gradually increased to a minimum of six hours for every 24-hour period by two weeks of age. at this age the birds will require a minimum of 16 hours of light for every 24-hour period. To bring the pullets into production at 18 to 20 weeks of age, light should be increased abruptly to 12 hours per day and then be gradually increased to 16 hours. Once egg production has been stimulated with increased lighting, the day length should not be reduced, or egg production will decline.
Often with smaller flocks, pullets are usually hatched in the spring and raised in barns with windows, or are outside during the day and subject to natural day length. In this situation, by the time the pullets reach 18 to 20 weeks of age, natural day length is decreasing. Therefore, increasing the day length with supplementary lighting will help bring them into peak production, and synchronize the flock's egg production cycle.
Light intensity is also an important part of proper lighting and must be controlled appropriately. For the first seven days, chicks must have a minimum of 20 lux to easily access feed and water. Birds that are housed in cages require light intensity at a minimum of five lux in the barn during periods of light, which is an intensity level where it becomes difficult to read a newspaper. For birds that are not housed in cages, light intensity must be at a minimum of 10 lux to safely move around the barn.
A temperature range of 12 to 26 C is suitable for hens during egg production. However, the temperature should be adjusted based on the behaviour of the flock. Hens that are too cold will huddle together and those that are too hot will pant and spread their wings. Hot temperatures may decrease feed intake and reduce egg production. Hens will increase feed intake in temperatures colder than 12 C to meet energy requirements. Cold temperatures may decrease egg production and, in extreme cases, freeze combs and feet. Temperatures should never go below freezing.
Nests and perches
If hens are to be kept in litter (straw) pens, or outside during the laying period, nest boxes should be provided. One nest (30 cm x 30 cm) should be provided for every five hens and placed approximately 60 cm off the floor, with perches to help hens reach the entrance. Nesting material, such as straw or wood shavings, should be placed inside the nests and replaced regularly.
Hens will sit on perches if they are provided, especially at night, which means the hens will be less likely to stay in the nests at night. This will help keep the nests clean.
Perches made of a hardwood are easier to clean and disinfect than those made with a softwood. They should be approximately 33 mm wide at the top. It is recommended that 12 to 15 cm of perch length be provided for each bird.
Detailed information on poultry nutrition is available in the General Nutrition Poultry Fact Sheet, along with the nutrient recommendations for egg-laying chickens (Table 1).
Laying hens should always have access to feed as they will eat from 100 to 120 grams of feed each day. Calcium intake is very important for laying birds because egg shells contain large amounts of calcium. Calcium intake is especially important in the pre-lay period (two weeks prior to egg production) because this is the time when pullets maximize their bone strength to enable them to produce egg shells. A deficiency in calcium can lead to skeletal problems, reduced egg production and thin-shelled eggs. The main calcium source for laying hens is limestone and/or oyster shell in the feed.
Egg handling and storage
Eggs should be collected regularly and nesting material kept clean to avoid bacterial contamination. Eggs should be allowed to cool gradually prior to refrigeration to avoid sweating (which may also lead to contamination). Generally, eggs are stored for three to four days at temperatures of 10 to 13 C before marketing.
If eggs require cleaning, they can be brushed off with sand-paper or washed. If washing, a water temperature at least 12 C higher than the eggs themselves should be used to avoid egg contamination. A sanitizer, but not dishwashing liquid, should also be used in the water. Water with high iron content should not be used. After washing, eggs should be rinsed and then completely dried prior to storage.
Poor egg production
A problem often encountered with smaller flocks is poor egg production or sudden drops in production. There are many causes for low egg production, and it is often a combination of different factors. These factors may also influence egg size and shell quality. The items discussed below should be examined and corrected if necessary.
Poor-quality feed can lead to reduced egg production, with deficiencies and imbalances of protein, energy and calcium being the most common. An extra calcium source, such as oyster shell or limestone, is usually required when mixing a poultry supplement with grain. Running out of feed or water may also cause a drop in production, as well as toxins in the feed. Feed should be tested to ensure nutrient requirements are being met.
Inappropriate lighting programs may also cause egg production problems. Low egg production may result if the pullets are reared with day lengths that are too long, or if the increase in day length used to bring them into production is inadequate. Long day length may result from sunlight entering through barn windows. If day length is decreased at any time during the production period, hens may stop laying eggs.
Sudden changes in temperature can affect egg production. Hot temperatures may cause a reduction in feed consumption, leaving the hen with insufficient nutrient intake to produce eggs. Both sudden increases and decreases in temperature will stress hens, and could adversely affect production. Poor ventilation may cause a build-up of gases which could cause a drop in egg production. High stocking densities will also negatively affect egg production.
The age of the hens will also affect how many eggs they produce. Commercial pullets begin laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age, and peak production occurs around 24 to 26 weeks. Hens in smaller flocks may not start until later in life. Egg production begins to drop slowly after the peak and by 72 weeks of age is down to approximately 70 per cent. The hens will eventually cease to produce and go into a moult where they lose and replace feathers. After moulting, hens will lay eggs for at least a second year. Egg production after a moult will be approximately 10 to 15 per cent lower than the first year.
Various diseases, including infectious bronchitis and avian encephalomyelitis, will cause a drop in egg production. Parasitic infections, such as coccidiosis and mites, can also cause decrease production. If a disease is suspected, a veterinarian should be consulted. To locate a poultry veterinarian in your area, contact the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association at 306-955-7862.
Nutrient deficiencies, cannibalism and parasites are common to most poultry classifications and are discussed in the Poultry Health and Disease Fact Sheet. A disease specific to laying birds is cage-layer fatigue.
For more information on pullets and laying hens, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets is a great resource. It is available on the NFACC website and covers Many topics, such as housing systems, nutrition, pullet management and housing.
Table 1. Lighting Programs for Laying Hens
|Hours of Light to Provide
|0 to 7 days
|Lights should be on 24 hours/day
|1 to 6 weeks
|Lighting can be:
a) 8-10 hours/day
b) 12-13 hours/day, gradually reducing to 8-10 hours
|6 to 18-20 weeks
|Lighting should be held at 8-10 hours/day
|18 to 20 weeks
|Lighting should be increased to 12 hours/day (egg production stimulated)
|Gradually increase from 12 to 16 hours/day
Chicken meat production involves broiler breeder farms, which produce broiler hatching eggs, and broiler chicken farms, which raise chickens to be marketed for processing.
Breeding chickens are raised in open-floor, environmentally controlled barns and reach sexual maturity at about 24 weeks of age.
For the breeding period, males and females are housed in barns that are primarily a combination of litter floor and raised slat areas. Each hen produces about 139 saleable chicks. Feeding, watering and egg collection are automated. The layer barns are equipped with roll-away nests, where eggs roll to a collection belt after being laid. Hatching eggs are picked up from the 10 broiler breeder production sites by one of the two commercial hatcheries in Saskatchewan: Sofina-Lilydale in Wynyard or Prairie Pride in Saskatoon. At the broiler hatcheries, the eggs are placed in setters for 18 days and then transferred to hatchers for the last three days of incubation. Broiler chicks are distributed from the hatcheries to broiler chicken producers in the province.
In 2017, 67 Saskatchewan broiler chicken producers marketed 46.9 million kg of eviscerated chicken. Farms sites generally have multiple environmentally controlled barns housing 20,000 to 40,000 birds on litter floors with automated feeding and watering equipment. Broiler flocks are grown on an all-in all-out basis for disease control and ease of management, meaning that all chicks are placed in the barn on the same day and then shipped to one of the two provincial processing plants at the same time at the end of their cycle. Larger farm sites may have chick placement and processing dates spread over a few days. The barns are typically cleaned and disinfected prior to arrival of the next flock of chicks, which occurs about 6.5 times a year. Male and female broilers are raised together, with market weights depending on requirements of the processors' customers. Currently, the Saskatchewan market is supplied by broilers weighing 2.0 to 2.2 kg (4.41 to 4.85 lbs.) at 37 to 42 days of age.
Broiler chickens are chickens raised for meat production that have a larger body frame and body weight than those used for the egg producing industry. Two types of chickens are available for meat production purposes in small flocks: Cornish crosses and dual purpose breeds.
Cornish cross birds have been bred specifically for meat production. There may be different growth rates with different crosses, but mature body weights for males can approach 6.4 kg (14 lb.). Crosses used commercially can reach approximately two kg in five to six weeks (broiler), and 3.6 kg (roaster) in six to eight weeks. Females are approximately 3.6 kg (eight lb.) at maturity. Chicks may be purchased in groups of males (cockerels), females (pullets) or as mixed sexes (unsexed).
Dual purpose chickens are raised in small flocks for both meat and egg production. They are smaller than commercial broilers, but reach a mature body weight of approximately 3.0 kg (6.5 lb.) for males and 2.5 kg (5.5 lb.) for females. Typical breeds include Rhode Island Red crossed with Barred Rock, Columbian Rock or Light Sussex.
Broiler Chicken Management
General guidelines for brooding and rearing chicks are available in the General Brooding and Rearing Poultry Fact Sheet.
Broiler chicks are raised on litter floors and can be given access to the outdoors after the brooding period. Feed and water container heights should be raised as the birds get older. The lip of the drinkers and feeders should be at the same height as the backs of the birds.
Females tend to grow slower than males and, therefore, reach market weight five to seven days after males. Females tend to have fewer leg problems and a lower incidence of metabolic diseases, and these attributes are credited to the lower growth rate.
The risk of developing breast blisters will increase as the birds approach mature body weight. Breast blisters occur most often in conditions where the bedding is wet or poor ventilation has led to high amounts of ammonia in the air. Proper ventilation and regular cleaning of pens (including addition of fresh straw or wood chips) will aid in preventing breast blisters. Access to roosts can also increase the incidence of breast blisters.
The presence of breast blisters can also indicate that other diseases or conditions are present. Birds that are ill or unable to walk will lay down and can develop breast blisters.
Pre-slaughter Feed Removal
Feed should be withdrawn from the birds approximately four hours prior to slaughter. This will help prevent contamination of the carcass by feces and intestinal contents.
Along with the nutrient recommendations for broiler chickens, detailed information on poultry nutrition is available in the General Nutrition Poultry Fact Sheet.
The amount of feed that broiler chickens eat will depend upon the type of feed provided. Birds fed commercial-type diets will eat approximately twice as much feed as the amount of body weight gain. As an example, birds processed for meat at 42 days of age may weigh 2.0 kg and have consumed 4.0 kg of feed. Chickens provided with a diet of lower nutrient density will require more feed to reach a similar weight.
Many of the problems encountered with raising broiler chickens are related to how fast the birds grow.
For more information on broilers and broiler breeders, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Hatching Eggs, Breeders, Chickens and Turkeys is a great resource. It is available on the NFACC website and covers many topics, such as housing, brooding, nutrition and stocking densities.
Saskatchewan's turkey industry consists of 11 registered producers that marketed 5.4 million kg of eviscerated turkey in 2017, valued at approximately $13.5 million. Although a specialized turkey hatchery previously existed in Saskatchewan, day-old turkey poults are now purchased from hatcheries in neighbouring provinces. Turkey production in Saskatchewan has shifted from seasonal to year-round, and has also changed from outdoor or range-rearing to environmentally controlled confinement rearing in open floor barns. Males and females are grown separately, and most of the current Saskatchewan production consists of hens marketed at relatively small body weights (five to seven kg) for the whole-bird market. Males (toms) are usually kept to larger weights and used for further processing into a wide range of meat products. Currently, only a small number of turkeys are processed in Saskatchewan, as most market-ready birds are shipped to Alberta or Manitoba.
Turkey poults available for purchase include white and bronze turkeys.
White turkeys are available in various strains that will reach different weights according to their age. Turkeys will reach four to six kg (nine to 13 lb.) at younger ages (10 to 12 weeks), or they can be slaughtered later (14 to 20 weeks) for a higher meat yield, at eight to 16 kg (17 to 35 lb.).
Both white and bronze turkey poults are generally purchased as mixed sexes. Bronze turkeys do not grow as rapidly as white turkeys and are smaller at maturity.
Guidelines for brooding and rearing turkey poults are available in the General Brooding and Rearing Poultry Fact Sheet.
Turkey poults require extra care and monitoring in the first couple of weeks to ensure that they are drinking water and eating the feed provided. Deaths within the first five days due to starvation and dehydration are more common than with chicks. The use of brooder rings is important for brooding poults, as it helps contain them near heat, feed and water sources.
Turkeys will eat bedding and, if it is eaten excessively, this can lead to gizzard impaction in birds that are two to three weeks of age. Providing a source of grit for the poults will assist the gizzard in breaking down the ingested litter.
If turkeys are to be raised on pasture, the range should be rotated so that a different area is used each year. This will help reduce the incidence of parasitic infection. Appropriate use of dewormers and manure management are also important to reduce parasitic infection. Talk with your veterinarian to develop a parasite management plan for your flock.
Breast blister and pre-slaughter feed removal recommendations are the same as those for broiler chickens.
It is important to note that turkeys have different nutrient requirements than chickens. Poults should therefore be fed diets meant for turkeys, not chicks.
Detailed information on poultry nutrition is available in the General Nutrition Poultry Fact Sheet. Nutrient recommendations for turkeys are illustrated in Table 1 of that fact sheet.
Nutrient deficiencies, cannibalism and parasites are common to most poultry classifications. As with broiler chickens, many of the problems encountered with raising turkeys are related to how fast they grow (leg problems and metabolic diseases). Turkeys should not be raised on farms with pigs, as some diseases that infect pigs (fowl cholera and erysipelas) can be transmitted to turkeys. Turkeys should also not be raised with chickens. Chickens carry certain diseases that can affect turkeys but do not affect chickens.
For more information on turkeys, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Hatching Eggs, Breeders, Chickens and Turkeys is a great resource. It is available on the NFACC website and covers many topics, such as lighting, disease prevention and reproductive management.
Ducks and Geese
Pekin, Rouen and Muscovy ducks are typical ducks raised for both meat and feathers (including down). The Pekin duck is a white bird, and males reach a mature weight of approximately 3.5 to 4.1 kg (eight to nine lb.). Rouens have plumage similar to wild mallard ducks and reach a mature weight of 2.7 kg (six lb.). Muscovy ducks are slower growing, but achieve mature weights of approximately 4.5 to 5.5 kg (10 to 11 lb.) for males and 2.5 to 3.0 kg (5.5 to 6.6 lb.) for females. Meat from Muscovy ducks is not as oily as meat from other ducks.
Geese are also raised for meat and feathers (including down). Emden geese are white at maturity and will weigh approximately six to nine kg (15 to 20 lb.).
Guidelines for brooding and rearing young ducks and geese are available in the General Brooding and Rearing Poultry Fact Sheet.
Ducks and geese can be raised indoors, with or without access to an outside run, or they can be raised primarily outdoors. Ducklings and goslings can be allowed access to an outside run or pasture by about three or four weeks of age. If they are raised indoors, feed and water should be placed on opposite sides of the pen in order to stimulate exercise.
Water dispensers should be large enough to allow the birds to submerge their bills to keep their nostrils clean.
When mature, ducks and geese can tolerate temperatures down to freezing, and can be raised outside later into the fall than chickens and turkeys. They should be provided with shelter from the wind and precipitation. During the summer, shade should also be available.
Nutrient recommendations for ducks and geese (waterfowl) are illustrated in Table 1 of the General Nutrition Poultry Fact Sheet, along with other detailed information on poultry nutrition.
Duck and goose starter feed has been specially formulated to contain required nutrients for their respective species. However, goslings can be fed a duck starter if goose starter is not available. If neither duck nor goose starter is available, non-medicated chick or turkey starter can be used but it is not ideal feed.
Ducks and geese are affected by fewer infectious diseases and parasites than chickens and turkeys. However, proper disease prevention and management techniques should always be followed.
Nutrient deficiencies, cannibalism, and parasites are discussed in the Poultry Health and Disease Fact Sheet.