Separating Rumors From Reality: Common Questions About Cage-Free Production Answered
It’s no secret that “change is coming.” In fact, change is already underway as North American egg producers are faced with cage-free housing compliance. Legislation implemented in response to consumer demands toward hen welfare is giving cause for egg producers to transition away from their existing cage housing systems. For many, the decision to invest in making their operation cage-free has stalled as they sort through the glut of information, sales-pitches, and misconceptions.
This multi-part article installment series will be answering the question, “what new barn and bird management challenges might I face when I go cage-free,” and will address common concerns through simple explanations and solutions.
“I’ve heard rumors that…the labor cost for cage-free is intensive.”
This has been a hot-topic of discussion as flock managers and producers relate their management experiences with cage-free systems. While it’s true that managing cage-free is different than caged, the cost of labor doesn’t have to be a financially daunting endeavor. Simply put, following old processes in a new system will not yield the best results.
After pullets are introduced into the aviary, additional workers can help establish proper nesting, laying, and perching behaviors during those few formative weeks. Extra labor would not be required over the entire life of the flock, however; the effort invested during the weeks after the housing transition will pay off for the remainder of production.
You already walk the aisles on a regular basis to inspect your flock and maintain your system. With a cage-free system, you will still need to walk the aisles, but with an added thought-process: make sure that the birds are active, spread out, and moving easily throughout the house.
When the birds aren’t spread out enough, it means crowding in some areas, which can lead to exaggerated competition for food, water, and space, as well as lower litter quality in any overused areas.
Even if time is at a premium, make the time to sit and observe flock behavior; get used to patterns of movement and sound. When the birds deviate from their usual pattern, it’s an indication that there is an environmental stressor. In the example of crowding, it’s likely that temperature, ventilation, or lighting should be adjusted.
Keep in mind, if any issues are not addressed as they arise, additional labor may be required for the remainder of production.
As with any new endeavor there is a learning curve, and workers and managers will gain cage-free skills and husbandry experience over time. Once the learning-curve levels out, and efficient management habits are established, the time and energy required to manage houses will lessen. Maintaining a uniformly comfortable environment is one of the best ways to avoid extra labor costs while achieving optimal efficiency and production. Diligently performing routine flock inspections, then adjusting environmental settings to modify a flock’s unproductive behavior is of utmost importance to cage-free success.
Equipment Spotlight: Bolegg Gallery
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In our next installment: Managing Cage-Free Flock Behavior
Vencomatic North America understands your cage-free challenges and concerns, and our equipment innovations work to make management easier. We are more than able to provide evidence and insights that may prove vital to your decision-making process. Allow our 30 years of experience in cage-free systems assist you in making plans for the future of your business.