Current Breeder Challenges, Need-Gap analysis, and Solutions

Dr Raina Raj, Head of Marketing, Natural Remedies Pvt. Ltd.

Natural is future 2.0 is a webinar series powered by Natural Remedies Pvt. Ltd., where we invite eminent speakers from across the globe to share their thoughts on the most relevant topics in the animal health industry. In July, we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Jayaraman, a renowned poultry breeder specialist in the Indian sub-continent. His discussion was aimed at providing practical solutions to the challenges of breeder’s health at different stages, to improve performance and productivity.

Dr. Jayaraman started his talk with the quote.


“If we understand the underlying problem, then we understand how to overcome it.” His talk was divided into three major sections based on the different stages, of the breeder’s life such as the brooder, grower, and layer phases, for easy comprehension.

Brooding Phase Challenges

He brought the focus to the incidence of lameness being higher in male birds in the brooding phase. At an early age, the birds start to limp or drag their body on the floor, one of the reasons attributed to this could be transportation stress. But if the symptoms progress as the birds grow and the number of birds showing these symptoms increases, the issue needs to be addressed. The birds may show postural defects, such as bowed legs or bent hocks. The lesions are evident in the hock region; the joint appears swollen and red. On closer examination, swelling in the plantar regions of the bird’s feet can also be noticed. In an autopsy, the hock joints would show inflammatory changes.

What causes these symptoms? Popular belief is to justify these symptoms with calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D3 deficiencies, or faulty brooding. With evidence from a peer-reviewed journal, he mentioned that “Staphylococcus is a potential pathogen in broiler breeders” that causes lameness. Staphylococci are opportunistic bacteria that invade through breaks in the skin surface (beak, and comb trimming). As a management practice, the first beak trimming happens at 1-2 weeks, making the birds susceptible to infection. Hence, he suggested that it is essential to start antibiotic treatment post beak trimming. He suggested the use of penicillin or penicillin derivatives such as strepto-penicillin, benzathine penicillin (long-acting), and amoxicillin as the drugs of choice since they can reach the synovial joints.

Why is the incidence of lameness higher in male birds?

In his opinion, one of the probable reasons could be that male birds have longer shanks as compared to female birds, and the other reason is that male birds also undergo comb trimming, which facilitates the entry of staphylococcus.
Dr. Jayaraman suggested the use of a probiotic in the first week of life for the birds and dosing them with antibiotics post beak trimming along with anti-mycoplasmic therapy in the second week. Since these practices are known to give good results.

Growing Phase Challenges

In the next phase, he selected to discuss intussusception. Intussusception is the telescoping of one part of the intestine into another. Its physical manifestation is called prolapse. The incidence is usually high when the feed is changed from chick mash to grower mash. This happens in growers, but by 10-12 weeks its incidence gradually decreases. The commonly known causes are pecking, low fibre, excess pressure or irritation in the intestine, necrotic enteritis, or subclinical coccidiosis. But Dr. Jayaraman brought other causes into attention, such as bacterial (Escherichia coli, Clostridium, and Campylobacter) and parasitic causes (internal worm infestation, Coccidia, Eimeria necatrix). Hence, he recommended the use of anti-coccidial drugs around 28 days of age.

The other cause is feed restrictions. The cases of intussusception are mostly seen after 7-10 days after a period of feed restriction. The incidence is higher in heavier bodyweight birds (above average body weight) because they tend to compete to consume as much feed as possible, leading to reverse peristalsis of the distal intestine leading to intussusception. He also suggested that if the cumulative feed consumption for the specific duration is optimal as per the feed company’s recommendations, generally this problem doesn’t happen. The way to solve this issue is to measure and titrate the feed such that there is less competition. The solutions that Dr. Jayaraman suggested were dark out of grower sheds; monitoring cumulative feed consumption for a specific duration; usage of anti-coccidials is essential (even in caged birds there are incidences of coccidiosis); he strictly suggested avoiding the use of antibiotics, and recommended the use of natural plant extracts and probiotics.

Laying Phase Challenges

Male depletion is high in the layer phase. In general, the male to female ratio is 1:10 or 1:9 in laying houses. Dr. Jayaraman pointed out that, the sheer number of male birds doesn’t guarantee good fertility. Both the number and the quality of the males are equally important. In the cage system for artificial insemination (AI), the male birds are milked for the collection of semen. When the frequency of milking increases (every alternate day), the quality of semen is reduced. So, by rearing a sufficient number of male birds and giving them adequate rest between milking, the male birds can maintain a good quality of semen. Practically preserving the males on the farm is just as important. He proposed that good management is when female mortality is 8% and male mortality is 10%. But in later stages, the male mortality is twice that of females, hence the remaining males are used more frequently for semen collection, leading to poor quality of semen. Also based on a scientific report, Dr. Jayaraman suggested that the major cause of male depletion, 33.8% is because of staphylococcal infection.
To combat male mortality, Dr. Jayaraman recommended a rotation of antibiotics like OTC-LA with penicillin, amoxicillin, and Tylosin. As age advances, the semen quality, and quantity deteriorates, so he suggested supplementing the birds with male fertility enhancers.

Female non-layers

Addressing challenges in female birds Dr. Jayaraman suggested identifying the non-layers. It can be done at the time of insemination. The non-layer birds will show difficulty in eversion; pin bones will be placed closer; the vent will be dry; the beak and shank will be yellow. He listed several reasons for birds to become non-layers. The causes may range from poor management, bacterial, viral, parasitic, and nutritional causes.

1. Management issues, if the flock doesn’t have uniformity such that it has higher body weight birds and low body weight birds in large proportion. During feed withdrawal, the higher body weight birds get less feed allocation. At this time, the body of the bird goes into conserving energy mode for maintenance and the bird becomes a non-layer.

2. During bacterial or viral infections, the birds show symptoms of low feed consumption. But on treatment, they get better. But some infections seep into the oviduct and cause trouble, leading to non-layers.

3. The nutritional issue is a large umbrella, and it is hard to pinpoint one nutritional cause for non-layers. In general, nutrients must be optimally provided, keeping trace minerals in mind.

4. External parasites like lice and mites. Dr. Jayaraman opined that lice infestation is well known, but in the recent past, red mite infestation has been increasing. Red mites affect the birds during the night hours, and cause anaemia but also lead to non-layers. He suggested some key issues be taken care of while doing the anti-parasitic treatment. Firstly, is maintaining proper pressure (psi) while spraying the anti-parasiticidal. Secondly, the time of application should be a few hours before lights out, so that the medication is effective and it acts on the mites which infest the birds during the night. He also advised the use of herbal products to treat parasitic infestations. And for internal parasites, de-worming in caged birds is also necessary.

Dr. Jayaraman suggested general treatment for non-layers, with ovulotonics, which are herbal preparations when given at the right time, helps the birds to rebound. He also mentioned that we tend to pay attention to only visible non-layers, but what about the birds which are going to be non-layers in the future? In his experience, when ovulotonics are given at 40-45 weeks of age, good results are noticed.

Disease challenge during peak production

Dr. Jayaraman mentioned that nowadays broiler breeders lay eggs just like layers, and have a good peak. To support their performance, the birds should be protected from basic challenges through immunization. He further explained that the words immunization and vaccination are not synonyms. Birds may have been vaccinated, but not necessarily immunized. The immunity of a bird is compromised even after vaccination. If the vaccine is not spaced out properly or if birds are immunocompromised, the expected titre will not be achieved. Hence, instead of repeating vaccination, immune-boosters and immunomodulators can be used to achieve higher titres. Supplementing the birds with vitamin E, selenium, glucomannan, herbal, and algal immune boosters were suggested along with the proper spacing of the vaccines.

Fatty liver syndrome (FLS)

He gave examples from his experience and mentioned that breeder producers notice the FLS in their birds post-peak. It is caused due to a mismatch between the energy supplied (excess) and that of the bird’s actual requirement, toxins, or damaged liver. Hence, it is important to understand the bird’s requirements and be cautious during feed allocations and feed withdrawal. To treat FLS, he suggested choline supplements, either herbal or synthetic and /or liver tonics.

Egg production failed to recover after a challenge

Dr. Jayaraman mentioned that in recent days, the major problem is posed when the birds do not come back to normal egg-laying after recovery from toxin, viral or bacterial challenges. He suggested that when recovering from challenges; please do not wait for a long duration to bring the production to a normal level.

Respiratory disease complex (RDC)

He mentioned that RDC was very common. It may be caused due to coryza, mycoplasma, ornithobacterium (ORT), or avian metapneumovirus. A thorough investigation needs to be done to narrow down the cause of respiratory distress. He recommended treating the flock with drugs like tiamulin, tilmicosin, and tylan. To avoid resistance to the drugs, shuffling and rotation of antibiotics can be followed. He recommended herbal products and essential oils to protect the birds from respiratory distress.


He spoke about enteritis and emphasized that it can be caused by several reasons; toxins, worms, bacterial infection, hormonal, etc. but common practice is to treat the flock with antibiotics, which isn’t right. Removing the root cause of enteritis is a good approach. But when one is unsure, herbal anti-diarrheal preparations can be used.

He concluded his talk by stating that breeder management is an art that combines balancing health, nutrition, and biosecurity aspects. There will be challenges. The way to get through them is by understanding the root cause, with diagnostics, and scientifically tackling the problem for better performance and profitability. Dr. Jayaraman answered the questions posed by the participants as below:

At what age should the feed restriction be practiced ?

Dr. Jayaraman mentioned that the restriction of feed between male and female birds is different. There is a difference of one week. The breeding company’s recommendations should be followed. For instance, 3-4 weeks of age is the right time to start the restriction, but the duration must be followed as per the producer’s recommendation. But the important thing is to study the cumulative gain for 5 weeks and correlate it with the average feed given in grams. Based on this, nutritional modifications should be made.

How do we treat tapeworms in birds ?

He opined that tapeworms have been noticed in recent days, especially if there is a presence of ants in the sheds. Broad-spectrum anthelmintics like albendazole or levamisole have been known to work well. But the dosages of the anthelmintics should not be confused with those of immunomodulatory doses. He would personally prefer albendazole to treat tapeworms.

How to control egg breakage in older birds ?

Dr. Jayaraman mentioned that egg breakage in older birds is physiological to some extent; it cannot be completely avoided. But through nutritional manipulations, one could reduce the incidence. The nutrient specifications for calcium and available phosphorus are slightly different for older birds as compared to those for other birds, which should be followed as per recommendations.The calcium source in the feed should be split into slowly available (70%) such as grit and readily available (30%) like calcite powder.

The egg size in older birds is larger, and the bird’s body frame tends to be larger. This can be addressed through bodyweight management, along with linoleic acid and methionine level management, which will provide better eggshell quality. Additionally, supplementing with slightly higher doses of trace minerals can help this condition.

What could be the reason for feather loss in birds ?

Dr. Jayaraman suggested that improper nutrition, or imbalanced sulphur-containing amino acids in feed, and stress may lead to feather loss post-peak. If specific birds show feather loss, this could be considered the first indication of non-layers. But if there is feather loss in all the birds, the protein requirement is not being met as per the recommendation, which needs to be checked.

What may be the reasons for the prolapse in the layers, in mid-lay ?

He suggested that the prolapse has to be differentiated if it is an intestinal prolapse or an oviduct prolapse. In intestinal prolapse, enteric substances are secreted into the oviduct, leading to inflammation, cloacitis, and ascending infection occurs. In intestinal prolapse, we need to treat the enteric causes.

If it is an oviduct prolapse, it is an ascending infection where parts of the oviduct is exposed and infected. If the cage mat isn’t well maintained, birds pick up the infection from the floor mat, leading to ascending infection. It can be treated topically with oxytetracycline long-acting (OTC-LA) ointment and neem oil. And infusing OTC-LA into the oviduct should help the recovery of the birds.

What is the minimum gap that should be given between two killed vaccines ?

Dr. Jayaraman opined that ideally, 4-5 weeks is the minimum. But the decision needs to be taken depending upon the titre. Some vaccines like IBH are given in the first week, and the next dose is only after 20-22 weeks, but the gap for coryza vaccine is only 8-10 weeks. Hence, it depends if the vaccine is bacterial or viral; if it is for a parent or commercial, the decisions are made on this basis.

Can toxins in feed change the internal and external quality of eggs ?

Dr. Jayaraman explained that the effects of mycotoxin on egg quality are well documented. There are effects both internally and externally. There is a change in the thickness of the shell. While internally, blood spots can be noticed. Vitamin A deficiency is usually attributed to blood spots in eggs, but mycotoxins can also cause blood spots.

Is there any way to control double-yolk egg condition in early production ?

He answered that double yolk eggs are a problem of mismanagement of the actual feed requirements of the birds and what is supplied to them. When challenging birds with more feed with an interest in gaining faster peak, it leads to jumbo eggs, which will lead to a higher incidence of peritonitis and egg retention along with increased mortality.

The other reason is light stimulation. When birds have reached the desired body weight but haven’t matured yet, they are challenged with overstimulation of light. This can lead to jumbo eggs. Hence, proper management of bird feed increments and light stimulation are important to control double yolk eggs.

What is the reason for the white legs in poultry birds ?

He mentioned that in his experience, he had seen white legs in some broiler breeds, and has found a correlation between white legs when birds are given feed devoid of maize.

In broilers, would you suggest the same treatment for tapeworms ?

He suggested that treating broilers for tapeworms may not be judicial. On the other hand, he also mentioned that the farmers use Areca catechu or betel nuts soaked water. 1kg of betel nuts soaked in water for 1000 birds, which has been effective. Secondly, control of ants is very important, which would give the best result for the next flock.

At what age, during brooding, should the light be stopped? After brooding, at what age should one introduce antibiotics ?

Dr. Jayaraman recommended that in the first two weeks, 22-23 hours of light is important, and then gradually taper down to natural light. Antibiotics can be introduced on the day or the next day of beak trimming.

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POULTRY PUNCH incorporated in 1984 and we are in poultry media since last 36 years and publish Poultry punch – English Monthly Magazine. Mr Balwant Singh Rana prior to laying the foundation of Poultry Punch magazine was still involved with renowned Indian poultry companies and It was there that he had the vision of doing something exceptional for the Indian poultry industry and then he stepped into the poultry media.

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