Commercial Production Chickens have been an integral part of our domestic scene for egg and meat production for a very long time. There are even records of hens being kept for eggs and meat as far back as Ancient Egyptian and Roman times. Chickens were domesticated from the Jungle Fowl, which is still very much alive, although endangered, and living in the rainforest areas of SE Asia. The chickens of today still posses instincts similar to their wild ancestors, such as foraging on the ground for food, flying to roost at night and enjoying the canopy of plants during the day. Commercial Egg Production has always been a topic for debate, since intensive production began. For hundreds of years, poultry were kept in the garden or on larger farming properties under basically free range conditions. Population increases, consumer demands and economic climate created the need for the more intensive farming practices in the 1950’s and 1960’s. These intensive practices enabled farmers to provide their produce at a reasonable price to the consumer. Today, poultry are kept commercially for three purposes. 1. Egg Production – consumable 2. Meat Production 3. Egg Production – fertile 1. Egg Production - consumable Breeds Although there are many different breeds of chickens, only three breeds are generally used for commercial egg production. These breeds are crossed to produce hybrids for specific egg production purposes. The genetic background for egg producing poultry is Leghorn X Australorp, White Leghorn X New Hampshire and New Hampshire X Australorp. The main criteria for egg production is the number of eggs produced over a 12 month period. Pullets begin laying at 18 to 22 weeks of age. Housing Laying Cages Two to three birds are housed in cages for a laying period of 12 to 14 months. Droppings fall through the wire floors and are cleaned out regularly. Continuous feed troughs and automatic waterers are fitted to the cages. Eggs roll out through the front of the cage and lie in a gutter for collection. Deep Litter Floor Accommodation Birds are kept in sheds with ‘litter’ on the floor i.e. straw, wood shavings, rice hulls etc. The equipment inside the sheds consists of food troughs, waterers, nesting boxes and perches. 2. Meat Production (Broiler) Broiler is the name given to birds bred specifically for meat production. The Chicken Meat industry is commonly known as the Broiler Industry. Breeds Breeding broilers is more complicated than breeding layers. The males are chosen for their broiler characteristics i.e. growth rate, food conversion ratio and conformation. The female is chosen with an emphasis on egg production as well as growth rate. The breeds incorporated in the genetic pool are Light Sussex, New Hampshire, Game, White Rock and Australorp. For broiler production, the emphasis is placed upon liveweight gain, age to market weight and food conversion ratio (kg liveweight gain/kg food consumption). Housing Broilers are usually housed in sheds, using techniques to best achieve maximum growth rate and the best conversion of food to liveweight gain. The sheds are equipped with automatic feeders and waterers. Optimum live weight of a broiler is 1.8kg, which is ideally achieved by 8 weeks. 3. Fertile Egg Production Production of fertile eggs involves some of the same practices as commercial egg production. The flocks are kept on deep litter in sheds. These sheds contain feeders, waterers and perches. The mating ratio is normally 10 cockerels for 100 pullets. The above are brief outlines of the housing methods used in more intensive operations. Free range production and self sufficient production deserve a sheet on their own, so have a look at ‘Free Range Eggs’ and ‘Chickens in the Garden’.