NC State Extension Publications

Introduction

Because of increasing economic pressure related to capital costs, egg prices, feed prices, and replacement pullet costs, the commercial egg industry must maximize the use of its resources. The need to lower production costs have led many enterprises to use induced molting programs. An induced molt is a means of synchronizing a natural physiological process so that all of the hens in a flock go out of production for a period of time. During this time, regression and rejuvenation of the reproductive tract occurs, followed by the loss and replacement of old feathers. After a molt, a hen's production rate and egg quality is improved, but egg production peaks 8 to 10 percent below the production peak from the first cycle peak rate.

Molting and Egg Size

For the egg producer/processor, induced molting offers a means of matching the egg supply with market conditions. Molted flocks produce a greater proportion of larger eggs than do first-cycle flocks (see Tables 1 and 2). Seasons in which demand results in high prices for larger egg sizes (usually during the summer) economically favor molted flocks. Production from pullet flocks is more economical during seasons when the price difference between medium and large eggs is small (usually in the winter and spring). Regardless of the time of year, if flock placements and molting schedules can be adjusted to take advantage of anticipated market conditions, molted flocks can produce greater returns per hen than single-cycle flocks.

Table 1. Typical egg size distribution and grade for white egg laying hens in single cycle, molted, and non-molted flocks.1
USDA Egg Size Egg Weights
(oz./Doz)
Single-Cycle Flock
17–85 wk
(%)
Molted Flock
17–109 wk
(%)
Non-Molted Flock
17–109 wk
(%)
Extra Large >27 64.3 74.1 72.0
Large 24–27 23.2 16.9 18.4
Medium 21–24 7.7 5.5 5.7
Small 18–21 4.1 3.2 3.0
USDA Egg Grades
Grade A 95.1 95.3 93.8
Grade B 2.6 2.3 3.0
Loss 2.4 2.5 3.1

1Source: 38th NCLP&MT Vol. 4 and 5.
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/layer_reports/38_single_cycle_report.pdf
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/layer_reports/38_final_report.pdf

Table 2. Typical egg size distribution and grade for brown egg laying hens in single cycle, molted, and non-molted flocks.1
USDA Egg Size Egg Weights
(oz./Doz)
Single-Cycle Flock
17–85 wk
(%)
Molted Flock
17–109 wk
(%)
Non-Molted Flock
17–109 wk
(%)
Extra Large >27 62.0 72.5 69.7
Large 24–27 26.5 19.5 21.5
Medium 21–24 8.6 5.9 6.4
Small 18–21 2.5 1.9 1.9
USDA Egg Grades
Grade A 95.2 95.3 94.2
Grade B 2.7 2.5 3.2
Loss 2.2 2.2 2.6

1Source: 38th NCLP&MT Vol. 4 and 5.
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/layer_reports/38_single_cycle_report.pdf
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/layer_reports/38_final_report.pdf

Hen Depreciation

Induced molting provides an even greater benefit by lengthening the productive life of the hen and thus reducing hen cost per dozen eggs. On average, the cost of a pullet is spread over 32 dozen eggs, and a replacement flock is purchased annually. A molting program allows the pullet cost to be spread over an average of about 41 dozen eggs, and replacement flocks are purchased less often—typically three times in six years. This difference may reduce egg production cost by more than 4 cents per dozen if pullet costs are high. When pullet prices are low, this savings may fall to less than 3 cents per dozen.

Feed Efficiency

A disadvantage of induced molting is that feed efficiency is about 6 percent poorer than in a single cycle flock. However, feed efficiency improves by 2 percent in a molted flock compared to a non-molted flock of the same age. The amount that feed efficiency will change depends on several factors, including strain, season, density, equipment, housing type, nutrition, and whether the molting technique is applied properly. When calculating feed efficiency, if you include the feed needed to grow a pullet for a single-cycle flock and include the molt feeds for the molted flock, then you will find that the molted flock will have a better overall feed efficiency. If, however, you calculate feed efficiency from 50 percent production for first-cycle and for molted flocks, you will find that the molted flocks have a poorer feed efficiency.

Molting from the Producer's Viewpoint

The decision whether to molt or not seldom rests with the contract egg producer. A successful molting program requires close cooperation between the production and marketing segments of the firm. At no point is this cooperation more important than at the laying house. A variety of non-anorexic induced molting methods are used today. AG-801, Induced Molting of Commercial Layers, outlines the most successful molting techniques available.

What to Expect from a Molting Program

When you embark on an induced molting program, you should be prepared for a number of changes. The most noticeable change will be a reduction in the total number of eggs sold in the same length of time. You should expect an average of about 7 percent fewer eggs annually from molted flocks than from single-cycle flocks. For example, over a five-year period, 3.8 single-cycle flocks of 35,000 hens will produce about 16.5 million dozen eggs. Over the same period, 2.8 molted flocks of 35,000 hens will produce about 11.4 million dozen eggs, a difference of 5.1 million dozen. This difference will obviously result in lower egg income unless specific arrangements are made to offset it.

Another noticeable change involves egg quality (see Tables 1 and 2). A reduction in grade-out is normal and requires the cooperation of the egg packer if the molting program is to be successful. What this means to the producer is that equipment maintenance, adjustment, and operation are even more critical with a molted flock than with a single-cycle flock to insure maximum egg yield. For example, a reduction shift in the grade yield of a flock of 9.8 percent in the percentage of Extra Large eggs produced by a 35,000-hen flock can reduce income by more than $44,550 per year. Thus, small differences can cost money, and daily attention to operating details is very important.

Various adjustment methods have been used to offset potential reduced income. These methods include cash payments to the producer while birds are out of production, increasing contract prices for eggs from the second laying cycle, or decreasing the penalty for under grade eggs.

Induced molting reduces the amount of time that the house is not producing income—a major advantage for egg producers. Because flocks are replaced less frequently, the laying house will be empty less often, which can help smooth out egg producers’ cash flow.

In summary, induced molting offers distinct economic advantages to the commercial egg industry. A molting program must be a team effort to be successful. Before deciding to initiate a molting program, carefully consider all costs and benefits. If your operation, facilities, labor, or management capabilities will not permit you to strictly follow prescribed molting procedures, you should consider other methods of reducing your production costs.

Author:

Extension Specialist (Comm Eggs & Pullet Rearing)
Poultry Science

Publication date: Feb. 9, 2015
Last updated: Feb. 13, 2015
AG-800

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