5 tips for operating an enriched system

Management practices to get the most out of furnished cages

October 22, 2020

As the regulations quickly change and the layer industry is mandated to move toward alternative style housing, it’s important to understand that there are many differences between these newer systems and conventional housing. Some of these offer advantages, such as being a safe and humane replacement for conventional housing environments.

Take enriched cages, for example. Although similar to conventional cages, they give birds more space to express natural behaviors and encourage them to lay their eggs in a nest area. However, these traits can also present management challenges. Producers need to overcome these obstacles to maximize egg quality by using management practices specific to enriched housing.

1. Nest placement

The placement of the cage enrichments is very important to the long-term success of the operation. The most important of these being the nest area, which should be located at the front of the cage closest to the egg belt. The nest area should be kept dark and placed in a calm area, such as a corner. This will ensure the eggs don’t have to roll through a high traffic area to get onto the egg belt where they could get pecked, stepped on or become dirty, making them unsalable.

In addition, the nest curtains should be close to the floor to control the light entering the nest. Darkness will increase nest acceptance and decrease mis-laid eggs. The scratch pad should be placed away from the nest, as it will excite the hens and disturb the laying process.

2. Lighting

Enriched cages are a package system with the enhancements working together to achieve an overall positive experience for the hens. A big part of the functionality is the lighting of the cages. The best results come from the lighting being inside the system for direct control of the intensity and consistency in every cage. Direct control also allows the nest area to remain dark, which increases nest acceptance and, as a result, improves egg quality.

3. Nest pad maintenance

Nest pads are an important enhancement to the enriched system for hen comfort. However, they do require regular maintenance. Inspecting the nest pads on a weekly basis and removing excess debris build up will cut down on dirty eggs. In extreme cases, these build ups can stop eggs from reaching the egg belt and increase the chance of damage.

4. Feeding

Having a feeding program becomes part of the management of the alternative layer system. Feeding should not interrupt the egg laying process. Following this practice will increase eggs being laid in the nests. Running the feed system during the egg laying time will disturb the hens and draw the birds out of the nest, which leads to mis-laid eggs.

Experts suggest that feed runs when the lights are first turned on and then not again until after the peak laying period is over, then equally throughout the rest of the day. This schedule will lead to the birds laying more eggs in the nest.

Also, try to ensure that feed and water sources are not accessible from the nest area. This will encourage birds to stay in the nest area if not blocked properly.

5. Egg control

Controlling the movement of the eggs in the system and on the collection belts will help with egg quality. Most enriched systems have built in programming of the egg belt movement, allowing it to run on a schedule. Moving the egg belts frequently (the length of the nest area) will keep eggs from overcrowding on the egg belt and crashing into each other, causing damage. This program can be set in your control system and is vital to stopping cracked and checked eggs.

Another tool in the control of egg belt density is the use of the egg saver wire. This will help cushion the eggs before they roll onto the egg belt, lessening the impact into other eggs.

Lastly, another important point is ensuring that equal numbers of birds have access to each side of the collection system. This is done by adding a center divider in the cage so you ensure that equal eggs are deposited on each side’s egg belts. Doing this will prevent belt overcrowding, as sometimes birds prefer a nest side and can overwhelm the collection system on that side.

Conclusion

If you adopt these simple ideas, you will successfully adapt to an enriched system. There are many more things that contribute to an effective layer farm, but focusing on these 5 areas will help move you toward success.

Additionally, some equipment manufacturers have bird behavioral specialists on staff to help with the startup and operation of enriched equipment. We encourage you to utilize these specialists to help ease the transition and make the conversion experience a success from your very first flock.

To learn more about our enriched systems, click here.