Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features 100th anniversary Research
Feeding Female Hormones to Hens

February 1951


February 1, 1951
By Bert Livingston

Topics

Hens are going to become more feminine. Science applied to feeding of poultry is going to make them that way. Main reason why every chicken farmer will love these hens with the extra feminine touch is that they will produce 20 percent more eggs without added feed cost. But this isn’t all – pullets will attain peak egg production three weeks ahead of what is now considered normal.

The period of maximum laying is lengthened from 30 to 90 days, according to indications at the end of a full year’s experiments. And by stimulation of feminine characteristics in the old hen that has almost ceased to lay at all, she can be restored to within 10 percent of egg production during her pullet year.

The poultryman with this magic control of what goes on in his henhouse will be enabled to hold early-hatched birds over periods of better egg prices as profitable laying members of this flock. He can increase the paying productive period of each of his birds from six to eight months – how much longer is not definitely known. The period of moult in his chickens can be shortened to an average of 31 days per bird, instead of 60 to 90-day moult normally experienced, maintaining 60 percent production from the birds even during moulting.

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Key to the almost unbelievably advantageous state of affairs is a hormone. Scientists have known, of course, that hormones account for manifestations of dominant sex traits. They had proved this, even in chickens, by various laboratory methods, including injections, and to varying degrees of success – or its lack. It was conceded generally to be so costly that use of hormone materials in commercial poultry production would be impossible.

Topping more than 35 years’ research by other scientists with 12 years’ intensive work of his own, an Italian biologist developed feed materials rich in hormones derived from natural sources through special compounding and methods of processing. The discoveries of Professor Antonia Morosoni, formerly assistant to the chief at the Legal Medicinal Institute, University of Palermo, Sicily, were acclaimed widely by various European universities, ministries of agriculture, and numerous scientific organizations.

Satisfying preliminary requirements of the United States Department of Agriculture with European tests of his research, Professor Morosini arranged for limited production of his hormone feeds by a feed company at Lakeland, Fla.

Since a revolutionary type of feed is basis for such astounding claims for improvements in poultry production, it might be said appropriately that “proof of the pudding is in the eating.” That’s exactly what commercial flocks at Benton’s Poultry Farm, on Route 8, near Tampa, have been doing since June 20, 1949.

In tests, under actual commercial poultry farming conditions, that are rounding out a full year this month, practical poultry husbandry has been under the management of Howard C. Benton, Scientific collaborator in tests of the hormone poultry feeds is Dr. C. D. Gordon, former USDA poultry co-ordinator, Washington, D.C., conductor of research in poultry genetics at Auburn University, and recently director for four years at Chinsegut Hill federal experiment station near Brooksville.

First test at Benton’s farm involved a pen of 100 pullets three weeks old. To establish a control, the pen was replicated by another with an equal number of birds selected on a family basis. Management involving vaccination, housing, sanitation, etc., was identical for each pen. Feed for both pens was of comparable quality, and feeding was in strict accordance with manufacturers’ directions. Only difference is that feed for birds in the test pen contained hormones.

At five months of age, each individual bird in both pens was checked for weight. Birds on hormone feed test averaged more than eight ounces heavier than birds of the check or control pen. The test birds showed more apparent female characteristics in their development and laid their first egg three weeks ahead of the controls. Eggs produced by hormone-fed birds were consistently heavier than those produced by the other birds even six months after laying started – which was one year after the experiment began.

A pen of 100 pedigreed New Hampshires between five and six months old was replicated to establish control for the second test. Six months after the test began; chickens on hormone feed were continuing to lay 20 percent more eggs than the control birds on standard feed. Eggs produced by hormone-fed chickens were larger by 1 to 1 ½ oz. per dozen than eggs laid by the control birds on standard feed. This test is being continued indefinitely to determine how long hormones feed will prove effective and what its ultimate effect will be both on the birds and their productivity.

Chickens in a third test were from a group of 26 pedigreed New Hampshires that had been entered in the Florida National Egg Laying Contest at Chipley, Fla. During 50 weeks of the contest, these hens laid 5,721 eggs. But during the last month of the contest they laid only 179 eggs; and by the time they were returned to the farm, egg production was negligible. The hens were put n hormone feed for 30 days. In the next month, November, these hens laid 292 eggs. This is a sharp contrast to normal conditions under which contest hens, commercially worn out and in forced moult due to shock from change and travel, were practically out of production. During January, after being on the hormone feed 90 days, this group of hens laid 357 eggs.

Summarising the records involving hens in this test, 26 birds laid an average of 219.2 eggs per bird during 350 days. Following this performance, 21 of the same birds averaged 97.5 eggs each in 180 days. What this means is that hens normally useless and out of production have been able to maintain a 53.9 percent production on hormone feed, although they were seven months older than at the end of the egg-laying contest at Chipley and a year older than at their peak of production reached during the contest.

As of May 1, these hens had been laying 18 months. This apparently proves that hormone feeding enables the poultryman to keep old hens – even when they are 27 months old – as profitable producers in the laying flock. Lifetime production of the birds reported in this test is 339.7 eggs per bird average. This is 52.5 percent production – and the poultryman whose flock does that well makes money. This test also is being continued indefinitely.

Although Florida investigators wish to make no specific claims at this time, it seems as though knowing how to develop feminine hens places them nearer to solution of the age-old mystery of sex predetermination. European research indicates that chickens fed hormone feeds and selected for families showing high feminine reaction to hormone stimuli can be bred to produce fertile eggs that will hatch up to 80 percent pullets – instead of the normal 48 percent.

The theory applied to limited experiments in Florida so far has shown maximum of 60 percent pullets in one hatch, with an average of better than 52 percent. Practical interpretation of this is that some day poultrymen may have a new strain of baby chicks that are feminine to the last feather, because mamma and grandma ate hormone feed; and they’ll grow into super egg producers. – “Poultry Digest.”