An experiment was conducted at the University of KwaZulu–Natal to assess the effect of constant photoperiods on sexual maturity and egg-laying performance in broiler breeders given two levels of control-feeding during the rearing phase. Cobb broiler breeder females were grown to reach 2·1 kg body weight at 17 or 21 weeks, and maintained on 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 or 16-h photoperiods from 2 days to 68 weeks of age. There were no significant interactions between photoperiod and growth rate for any production parameter. The time required reaching 2·1 kg increased proportionally with photoperiod but, because of delayed sexual development, birds on longer photoperiods consumed more feed to, and were heavier at, sexual maturity than shorter daylengths. The longer-photoperiod birds also had inferior rates of lay in the first half of the cycle, but superior in the second, which, together with the photoperiodic effects on maturity, resulted in birds on 11, 13 or 14 h producing most eggs to 68 weeks, and those on 16 h fewest. It is possible that the pattern of egg production was due to some of the birds on [ges ]13-h photoperiods becoming photorefractory, having a mid-cycle pause, and then spontaneously resuming egg production in the latter half of the cycle. However, a hinge-analysis of current and other data to the more usual depletion age of 60 weeks showed that the combined effects of photoperiod on sexual maturity and egg production resulted in constant 10-h birds producing the highest number of eggs, with numbers decreasing by 3·6 eggs/h of photoperiod above the hinge and 7·8 eggs/h of photoperiod below it. Mean egg weight increased by 0·4 g/h of photoperiod, but the proportion of abnormally large and floor eggs and the incidence of mortality were unaffected by daylength. For each photoperiod, accelerated growth resulted in body weights being heavier than controls at sexual maturity, despite the mean age at maturity being 10 days earlier for the faster-growing birds. Body weights for the two growth groups were not significantly different at 68 weeks. Faster-growth birds consumed 1 kg less feed to 2·1 kg body weight, but 1·3 kg more feed to sexual maturity and 2·7 kg more to 68 weeks, and produced 6 more eggs than, but had similar patterns of egg production to, the conventionally managed controls. Mean egg weight, the proportion of floor eggs and the incidence of mortality were similar for both groups. Notwithstanding that the overall production of abnormally large eggs was low (1·1 eggs per bird); the faster-growing birds produced significantly more than the controls. Egg weight was positively influenced by age at sexual maturity, body weight at sexual maturity and photoperiod, but was unaffected by rate of growth to 2·1 kg per se.
These findings show that there are differences between broiler breeders and egg-type pullets in their response to constant photoperiods. It is likely that the factors responsible for these differences, particularly in terms of sexual development, are the exhibition of photorefractoriness by, and the retardational effects of controlled feeding on, broiler breeders.
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