laying chickens
Climate change has become a global threat to food production. It has great effects on farm animals, especially poultry. One of the factors to be considered before establishing a poultry farm is the environment; this considers the prevailing weather condition. However, there is a clear distinction between weather and climate. Climate is the average weather condition of a place over a long period; say 30 or 35 years while weather is the atmospheric condition of a particular are for a short period. Thus, climate is what you expect but weather is what you get.

The depletion of the ozone layer has subjected the universe to intense solar radiation. This effect has greatly impeded global food production. Most times, farm animals get a lion’s share of this effect.  Poultry production, being a prominent source of animal protein, tends to be more affected by the change in climate. Temperature, being a major factor of existence of all living things, has great influence in poultry production.
Laying chickens have an optimum temperature range for their production, this is also called Thermoneutral zone. It is the ambient temperature range that laying chickens regulate their body temperature themselves without any external aid; it ranges between 18oC and 24oC, but 21oC is universally accepted. 
An ambient temperature of 21oC has been found to be optimum for poultry production, where all variables like nutrient intake and water intake are unaltered. In hot climates, where there is high temperature range, there is often a huge detrimental effect on poultry birds; their production is far from better. For optimum production to be achieved in poultry production there is a need to achieve balance in the heat produced and heat given out by the chickens, this phenomenon is called Thermobalance. This can be achieved through different means; one of which is the nutritional adjustments in the poultry production.
Naturally, chickens produce heat as a result of their metabolism; the Thermoneutral zone of chickens is 21oC. The normal temperature of a laying chicken is 41.5oC but varies with environmental temperature because for a chicken to maintain constant temperature, the environmental temperature must be at least 15oC lesser than the chicken’s body temperature. In other words, exchange of heat between a chicken and the environment is possible only if the environmental temperature is lesser than the chicken’s body temperature; if otherwise, it leads to heat stress.
Feeding takes a larger proportion of the cost of production in a poultry farm. When feeding laying chickens, the farmer must be sure of the efficiency of the feed, in terms of body weight gained and egg production, this is otherwise known as Feed Conversion Ratio. Sometimes, farmers experience change in output, in terms of egg production or weight gained, with equal amount of feed served to the chickens at different period. This is a function of the change in weather condition, particularly change in temperature.
Feeding program for laying chickens changes with temperature; the nutrient composition of a poultry feed in a hot environment is quite different from that of a cold environment. The difference is solely to alleviate the effect of the temperature change on the chickens. Thus, to achieve increased or unaltered production efficiency, which is the sole aim of poultry production.

What happens to laying chickens in a hot weather conditions?

When environmental temperature is above 21oC or in a hot environment, feed intake is always lesser than normal and this leads to drop in production. The nutritional composition of the feed during this period has to be adjusted to maintain optimum production. Laying chickens are observed to consume less feed due to low energy content; there is a decrease of 1.5% of feed intake for each rise of temperature by 1oC above the Thermoneutral zone, 21oC. Laying chickens kept at 30oC eat 25% less diet; this leads to a reduction of egg quality. 
When a chicken is under heat stress as a result of increased environmental temperature, the chicken tends to remove body stress, thus, they eat less. Eating high energy feed during this period will be unproductive because the feed will induce more heat in the chicken, making it very uncomfortable. Hence, laying chickens need a low energy diet. However, this can also be corrected by increasing the photoperiod and providing cooler temperature at night to enable chickens access feed.
Also, as a result of the reduced feed intake, nutrient deficiencies are often more pronounced as chickens eat very little to meet their nutritional requirement. In high deficiency condition, the metabolism of the liver can be greatly altered leading to a disease condition known as prolapse; this is the accumulation of fat in the carcass. 

Energy in poultry diet is used for three purposes, namely:

  • Maintenance
  • Growth (change in body weight)
  • Egg production.
Maintenance energy plays vital role in the metabolism of a laying chicken; any change in the factors needed for growth, like environmental temperature, changes the need for the maintenance energy. Maintenance energy is less by 1.5% at each unit of temperature change above 21oC. In such conditions, laying chickens give preference for maintenance energy over growth and egg production. This is why a drop in weight gained and egg production is usually observed during in hot weather conditions. Laying chickens use larger portion of the energy for maintenance than production. 

What happens to laying chickens in cold weather condition?

When the temperature is low, below the Thermoneutral zone, there is always an increase in the productivity of laying chickens, in terms of egg quality and growth. In a cold weather condition, feed intake increases drastically as maintenance energy is higher at lower temperatures; also, chickens naturally eat more to meet their nutritional requirement. Energy requirement increases than normal, at a rate of 1.5% per degree drop in temperature; this is an evident of the increased feed intake. 

Nutrient deficiency is not observed during this period as chickens eat as much as possible to cater for their nutritional requirement. During this period, the cost of production is usually high as chickens consume a lot of feed in the quest to find extra energy to stay warm; conversely, production increases as it leads to increase in egg quantity, quality and body weight.

In conclusion

Ambient temperature range between 18oC and 24oC has been observed to be the best for poultry production, where all variables, including nutrient requirement, are normal. Any change in this temperature range, 18oC and 24oC, needs a complementary adjustment in either housing or nutrition. Modification of housing is very expensive; hence, nutritional adjustment is effective and economical. 

Protein level and vitamins seem unaffected at these temperature extremes.  By the virtue of the antioxidant properties of Vitamin C and Vitamin E, they have been proved to be very effective in controlling heat stress in hot climatic areas as they neutralize the free radicals causing heat stress.

One of the essential nutrients needed by laying chicken is water. Water is very important as it is one of the prominent ways to control heat stress. Water must be available ways, irrespective of the climate or season. Water serves as coolant during heat stress and helps to lubricate joints.
Monitoring the nutritional requirement for laying chickens as season varies is very crucial to achieve optimum production. Undoubtedly, poultry nutrition changes with season and weather condition. Vigilance and close observation to the weather parameters are very important to achieve efficient poultry production.

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This post was originally published at JustAgriculture Blog. by Agbabiaka AbdulQuadri. It has been republished here with permission.

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