Cage-free lighting strategies

Helpful lighting sequence considerations

October 2, 2023 | Erika Prewitt, Aviary Systems Specialist

Lighting is a crucial component to properly managing any poultry housing system. It’s even more crucial when managing a cage-free layer house. Our goal is well-trained pullets and layers that go back into the system at night so that, when the time comes, they lay their eggs in the nest instead of on the floor.

So, how do we train pullets or layers to come up off the floor when it’s time for lights out? A strategic lighting sequence and duration are at the heart of this. I know there are many different opinions of this sequence, but I’m going to give you my go-to approach.

Start the dim-down training process as soon as you can at the pullet stage. You want them well accustomed to it by the time they get to the layer house. Have good communication with your pullet grower if you are not raising them yourself. You will want to match both the lighting sequence and light intensities in both houses when first moving birds. Come up with a plan that both of you can agree on.

Don’t change the sequence when first housing the pullets in the layer barn from what they are used to. This can confuse the birds and affect how well they enter the system at night.

Don’t change the foot-candle drastically either from the pullet to the layer barn at move-in time. This can cause the birds to become very flighty if they are used to a dim pullet house and are then moved to a very bright layer house. Try to have the houses be no more than one to 1.5 fc different. Ask your genetic company if they have a specific recommendation for your breed.

To start your dim-down sequence at night, any lights underneath the system should be shut off first. Don’t bother dimming lights underneath the system – they should simply go from on to off. This helps move the birds out from underneath the system and into the aisle, and additionally move into the system.

Remember, do not allow birds access underneath the system until they are fully trained to move into the system at night. This goes for both pullets and layers. Even if birds cannot access underneath the system yet, lights should be on at 100 percent intensity.

Next, here are three different strategies for your consideration.

1. Begin dimming the ceiling and the system lights together.

Dim for about five minutes. After that, pause the system lights and continue to dim down the ceiling lights. When ceiling lights are at zero percent, continue dimming down the system lights until they turn off also. This method works well in any sort of aviary system.

2. The opposite of strategy one.

Begin dimming the ceiling and system lights together. But this time, hold the ceiling lights. Dim the system lights first and then finish dimming the ceiling lights. I only use this strategy in limited environments. An example of this is if you have a very tall aviary system and the ceiling light illuminates the top tier better than the system lights, so it has three or more tiers and no system lights on the upper tiers.

3. The third method is ideal if your controller can’t pause.

In this case, I begin by dimming the ceiling lights first for about 10 minutes followed by dimming the system lights for 20 minutes. This is the easiest method to follow, and I often use it for producers new to cage-free.