Extension Programs for Commercial and Small Flock Egg Producers - Poultry [Skip to Content]

Illinois Livestock Trail
Extension Programs for Commercial and Small Flock Egg Producers
by Ken W. Koelkebeck

The commercial layer industry in the Midwest is dynamic and ever changing. The 2000 years statistics on the number of laying hens revealed that approximately 60.6 million layers were on farms in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Iowa. The egg production complexes that house these layers are state-of-the-art with high tech egg processing facilities. Other operations located here in the Midwest include several commercial breeder complexes, hatcheries, spent hen processing plants, and egg breaking plants.

In Illinois, about 3.4 million layers were housed in five to six large complexes in 2000. One of these complexes has 1.6 million hens of which roughly half are housed in three individual houses each having a capacity of 280 to 300 thousand hens. Illinois also has one egg breaking plant which breaks eggs from 450,000 hens. Even though the number of layers in the Midwest is substantial, Illinois is an egg deficit state and imports eggs from surrounding states to meet its' demand. The main reasons as to why the commercial layer industry in Illinois is small compared to surrounding states is because of high workmens compensation rates, high land prices, and high real estate taxes. Until these road blocks are eliminated, the layer industry in Illinois will remain small.


In order to have and maintain a successful extension program that serves the need of the laying hen industry, a number of programs have been initiated and conducted in Illinois. The programs which have been and remain to be the backbone of the poultry extension program in Illinois are the following.

  1. Small Flock Poultry Meetings
  2. Pullorum Blood Testing School
  3. Illinois Poultry Industry Council Annual Seminar
  4. Illinois Poultry Industry Council Secretary-Treasurer
  5. Multi-State Poultry Conferences
  6. PoultryNet Web Site

The above extension programs have been conducted to provide the commercial and small flock layer industry with current information to help be more efficient. The Illinois Poultry Industry Council is one of the states' poultry associations, and the annual seminar seeks to provide egg producers with current information that assists them in making day-to-day management decisions. A major part of the extension program for the layer industry has involved conducting several Multi-State conferences and programs. These meetings not only provide an educational service for egg producers in Illinois, but also are of benefit to the industry in surrounding states as well. The newest poultry extension endeavor has been the establishment of a web site entitled, "PoultryNet". The web address is: This web site contains information for the commercial and small flock producer by having current research and extension publications accessible from the site. Producers are able to download and print research articles and other pertinent information which they might be interested in. The site also contains a section entitled, "Ask the Expert", where anyone accessing the site may ask a poultry related question. This web site continues to be a major emphasis for the poultry extension program in Illinois.


In my estimation, in order to have a successful poultry extension program, I believe it is imperative to conduct applied research. Some of the following applied research projects which I have conducted are described below.

In collaboration with Extension Specialists in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut, we conducted a retail egg quality study. My part of the study was to survey stores in Illinois and collect data on egg prices, types of packaging, and marketing techniques. This study has been presented at various industry and scientific meetings, and a peer-reviewed manuscript was written.

In another applied type research study, a commercial egg farm was having egg production and shell quality problems with most of the eggs produced from an in-line complex. It was suspected that the birds' drinking water contained possible harmful minerals. Thus, it was decided that the farm supply us with some of their drinking water and we would conduct a short-term production study using laying hens on our research farm. The results of this study suggested that the commercial farms drinking water had high sodium levels that negatively affected production performance and egg shell quality. As a result of this study, the farm tapped into the city water supply and is currently not experiencing any more problems. Also, another peer-reviewed manuscript was published as a result of this study.

Finally, an animal rights group, Humane-Pac, introduced a bill (Illinois House Bill 756) into the Illinois legislature in March, 2001. The bill was entitled, "Safe Egg and Laying Hen Protection Act". The bill sent before the Illinois House Agriculture Subcommittee contained language to eliminate the use of force molting in laying hens and eliminate the housing of layers in cage. The second objective was dropped from the bill, but the force molting issue was kept. The Humane-Pac group contended that hens which were force molted would produce eggs that were contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis. Thus, with the help of the United Egg Producers, PSA Animal Care Committee, PSA Food Safety Committee, and egg producers in our state, we were successful in defeating IL House Bill 11-0 in the Agriculture Subcommittee. Even before this proposed legislation occurred we had conducted numerous research experiments on the issue of force molting. Thus, in light of this failed legislation, we are presently conducting experiments that address the issue of using non-feed removal molt programs to molt laying hens.


In summary, I have attempted to present my views on how a successful extension program for the commercial and small flock layer industries should be conducted. I believe that a good layer extension program should consist of the following key elements:

  1. planning,
  2. being accessible,
  3. accept suggestions from your clientele,
  4. conduct client driven programs,
  5. establish good communications with industry leaders, and
  6. be trustworthy and have a sincere desire to help.

In addition, I also believe that a successful extension program for the commercial layer industry should also involve the following:

  1. development and implementation of applied-type research projects,
  2. dissemination of those research results to the industry in a timely manner, and
  3. publish the results in newsletters, trade magazines, web-based electronic resources, and peer-reviewed manuscripts.

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