Keys to a successful pullet release

Five key aspects cage-free producers should consider before a pullet release

March 2, 2023 | Erika Prewitt, Aviary Systems Specialist

The most labor-intensive part of rearing cage-free pullets is release and training. Let’s first discuss why pullet release training is important. 

Almost everything we do in the pullet barn is to train the pullets to be better hens once they enter the layer barn. The paycheck in the layer barn comes from the eggs. Therefore, egg quality is of upmost importance to an egg producer. 

We know better egg quality is achieved when the hen lays her egg in the nest compared to in the system or on the floor. Therefore, we strive for nest acceptance. If hens are not trained to return to the system at dim down time, the hen may decide to sleep on the floor. When the hen sleeps on the floor, she has a greater chance of waking up and laying her egg on the floor instead of moving up into system to the nest. 

By training the pullets to go back into the system at night, you are helping to prevent floor eggs. That said, here are five key aspects producers should consider before a pullet release.

1. Age of Release

Depending on the design of the pullet system, release can happen anywhere from two to seven weeks. There are a few factors that can determine the age of release. The height of the system, use of bridges and ramps, as well as running out of room within the system all play key roles. 

There are some advantages to waiting to a little later in age though. For example, a four-week pullet is bigger and stronger than a three-week pullet. This gives the older pullet an advantage when it comes to the ability to jump back into the system at night. 

2. Time of Release

It is best to release the pullets in the morning. This gives them time to explore the floor and to practice going back into the system on their own before the dim down period begins. If you wait until afternoon to release, the pullet doesn’t have time to become accustomed to the system and using the ramps and bridges. This leads to a high number of pullets out on the floor when lights turn off. 

3. Preparing for Release

I like for the feed to be ran twice, if possible, before releasing. For many pullets once they are first released from the system they will not eat or drink until the following morning. So, make sure they have time to consume plenty of water and feed before you open the doors. 

4. Help with Pick Ups

Make sure to have plenty help available to pick up pullets after lights turn off. Smothering can occur in large piles and you want to make sure you get to each pile as soon as you can. Also, be sure to use dim red headlamps. Bright headlamps can cause birds to stir and they may jump out of the system or be harder to catch. 

5. Practice Dim Downs

Establishing a dim down routine early is my last key to success for pullet release. Beginning the very first few days that they are housed, you want to start your dim down process at the same duration and time that it will be when they are released. 

If you make changes to the time of the dim down, make sure you do it in small amounts. Try to add or remove the majority of the time from the morning dim up time. 

I recommend that you try to keep your dim down duration between 30 to 45 minutes. You don’t want it to be too quick or too drawn out that the pullets don’t respond correctly. 

Once released, the pullets will anticipate the time of dim down based on the routine that they are used to. They will know when to expect the lights to start dimming. You will see many hens move into the system before lights start dimming because they know internally that’s it coming. Changing this last minute can cause chaos and not as many birds to go back into the system.

To learn more about Big Dutchman’s available pullet systems, click here.