Laying pause: Simply and effectively improving animal health and egg quality

Stefan Gerdes is almost alone among ladies everyday. As the manager of Frischei GmbH, he is master over 360,000 laying hens. In 2012, the company, which was founded by 18 farmers in the Wietmarschen (Lower Saxony) area, started with two barns – today nine barns are available. The rapid expansion of the company and the subsequent construction of its own breeding station directly created a great challenge for the 28-year old.

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Johannes Voss-Stemping, director of Hagedorn-Voss GmbH, shows what an opened fresh egg looks like.Laying pause: Simply and effectively improving animal health and egg quality
Johannes Voss-Stemping, director of Hagedorn-Voss GmbH, shows what an opened fresh egg looks like.

"We could not run the company in a continuous 20-week rhythm," explains Gerdes. Some animals had to be purchased, as the breading was not yet operational. As a result there was a smaller time difference between the herds than had been envisaged in the business plan. The possible solution for the problem: a laying pause. "We hoped that we would be able to synchronise the flocks so that all the processes fit the company's management again," explains Gerdes.

Feed and light concept for the correct laying pause
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During the laying pause – also called moult – the feather of the animals renew, but above all the oviduct is also renewed. The result of this process is a new plumage and improved laying and egg quality. However, the actually ever so natural process means an enormous effort for the animals and therefore has to be implemented for barn eggs with a large amount of dexterity. Stefan Gerdes, together with his colleagues Florian Kröger, Director of AGRAVIS Mischfutter Emsland GmbH AGRAVIS Mischfutter Emsland GmbH , and Heinrich Icking, Product Manager Poultry Feed Poultry Feed at AGRAVIS Mischfutter GmbH, took a long time to consider how to implement it precisely. Together they developed a feed and light concept in order to structure the processes as carefully as possible for the animals.

Higher-performing animals and larger eggs

Today, around eight months after the first flock was given a laying pause, the summary is positive all round. The additional cost resulting from cleaning up the old feathers, laid eggs and the repeated mucking out, was worth it in the end, says Stefan Gerdes: "The animals are fit and perform better for longer, the eggs are larger and have a better shell quality." From an economic perspective, there is a great deal in favour of the moult; "The laying pause cost us around Euro one per animal. If we had to buy new young hens, it would cost roughly Euro four per animal." However, after the laying pause the hens can almost be considered to be young hens, just a bit better performing. Whereas the average weight of the eggs from a flock of moulters is 48 grams, after a three-week pause it was 66 grams. In addition, egg production increased from around 360 eggs per hen to around 535 eggs. "And our animals are getting older" adds Gerdes. Whereas a barn was cleared after 75 weeks, this now takes place for moulter flocks after 110 weeks.

Successful concept gaining a reputation

A concept that works gets a reputation. This is how Johannes Voss-Stemping and David Schulze-Wettendorf in Nordwalde in Münsterland found out about it. The directors of Hagedorn-Voss GmbH keep 135,000 laying hens in small groups and have been trading since 2010. "Our main target group are market dealers, but we also supply wholesalers and restaurants nearby." explains Johannes Voss-Stemping. The young hens come to Nordwalde aged 17 weeks – they are typically removed from the barns at 90 weeks. As the egg market is subject to strong fluctuations in demand, the two directors were concerned about the profitability of their company and learned about the laying pause. "We barned the flock in May, and in the summer the demand for eggs is very low," says David Schulze-Wettendorf. So we thought about how to increase profitability and how best to exploit the high-sales seasons, such as Easter and Christmas.

Note instructions during the laying pause

They already had connections to AGRAVIS through the parallel pig-feed company belonging to the Voss-Stemping family, and as a result the moult concept was "imported" from Wietmarschen to the Münsterland. Florian Kröger manages the company and found himself facing different challenges compared to those in Wietmarschen. "We started the laying pause in July 2014," he recalls. The flock started the moult with a laying output of 86 percent – a very goof figure for an age of 76 weeks. So expectations were correspondingly high. Because the pause came directly after a period with very high demand. Accordingly, there could not be a fall in output and too many losses. "You still have to consider whether a company should have a laying pause or buy new young hens," says Kröger.

Constant monitoring and analysis

For Hagedorn-Voss GmbH, the laying pause was worth it. Even if the directors were skeptical to begin with. "The laying pause is an intervention into the animals' normal rhythm of life, and you never know how they are going to react," stresses David Schulze-Wettendorf. However, everyone involved was confident, as the general conditions were ideal. Apart from the technical requirements, a constant check and analysis of the flock was guaranteed during the various moulting phases.

"The principle is always the same, but has to be adapted individually to the respective company," explains Florian Kröger. The flock always has to be carefully examined in terms of health, fitness, weight and age before opting for the laying pause. Experts consider very precise monitoring and a carefully adapted feed and light concept to be essential. As in Wietmarschen, the Nordwald company also used Golddott phase feed.

Because of the good experience that David Schulze-Wettendorf and Johannes Voss-Stemping had with the laying pause, it is absolutely conceivable for them that they will use this option again: "The extra cost is certainly worth it." The animals remain in the company until they are 110 weeks old, and lay an expected 520 eggs each. Normally hens are removed from the barn at 76 weeks – which is roughly 332 eggs per hen.

At a Glance: Grafschafter Frischei

  • 18 farmers as shareholders
  • Start in 2012 two two barns
  • Now nine barns, each with 40,000 animals
  • Own breeding facility
  • Annual egg production: around 13.6 million eggs
  • Genetics: Isa Dekalb white
  • Closed system
  • Average age: 85 weeks
  • Phase feed GoldDott

At a Glance: Hagedorn-Voss GmbH

  • Shareholders: Johannes Voss-Stemping, David Schulze-Wettendorf
  • Two barns since 2010
  • 135,000 laying hens in small groups
  • Daily egg production: 100,000 to 140,000 eggs
  • Own packing facility, manure drying, manure marketing
  • Genetics: Lohmann brown (75 percent) and Lohnmann white (25 percent)

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More information about the laying pause and the associated feed and light concept is available from Florian Kröger, Tel. 0591 . 80014-62, or from product manager Heinrich Icking, Tel. 0251 . 682-2284,