Selecting an aviary system

Four tips for selecting and optimizing your cage-free aviary system

June 13, 2024 | Erika Prewitt, Aviary Systems Specialist

The basic concept of an aviary is a multi-level system that provides feed, water, and a nest. The configuration of these necessities and additional features makes each aviary system unique.

Equipment companies work to design these systems to optimize density, create a good environment for the birds, and meet standards placed by accreditation bodies. The system options that are pitched to a producer can stand out based on additional features that reduce workload.

This article highlights some of these features that producers should consider when selecting an aviary system and designing a barn.

1. Infastructure Compatibility

When selecting an aviary system, there are several points producers should consider. The first factor is determining if the system will need to fit into an existing building or a new construction. If a system needs to fit into a specific ceiling height or width, it can instantaneously narrow down the choices. It’s best to allow 24 to 36 inches between the top of the system and the ceiling to allow enough room for ventilation and airflow.

This aspect can help producers decide whether a two-tier or three-tier system is a better fit. Advantages of a two-tier system include fitting into an existing house with a lower ceiling height and being able to visually inspect each tier easily. And, if necessary, it also allows you to work on the equipment with ease. The advantage of a taller three-tier system is bird density. Often, with a new build, a producer will opt for a three-tier to bring down the overall cost per bird.

2. Aisle Width and Layout

A factor that is very important and contributes greatly to the overall environment of a cage-free barn is aisle width. We recommend at least six to eight feet of aisle width to create the best environment for the birds. Ideally, birds should be able to jump down into the litter without crashing into the equipment in the next aisle.

Wider aisles also allow for the birds to easily move around when barn staff walk the aisles. With wider aisles, you can visibly see under the system better for inspections. And lastly, proper aisle spacing allows for airflow to get to the litter, allowing it to dry properly.

3. System Egg Collection

There are also a few additional optional features that we encourage producers to consider. These options relate to system egg collection. Like floor eggs, if system eggs are not collected promptly when laid, it can encourage hens to lay even more in that area.

It is often hard to manually collect system eggs promptly if farm staff are, at the same time, picking up floor eggs, ensuring feed is running properly, and overseeing the morning egg collection. So, if system egg collection is an option in an aviary, it is worth consideration.

Likewise, to help decrease floor eggs underneath a system, ensure the lighting underneath the system does not create shadows and keeps the area bright. Producers can also use a litter reduction system in the morning to disrupt hens that might want to lay under the system.

4. Optimizing Egg Quality

The final factor to consider when selecting an aviary system is the egg quality expectations. When trying to optimize egg quality, the goal is to get as many eggs laid as possible in the nest. Having a nest with curtains, an astroturf-style mat to lay on, and isolation from the movement of other hens and bright lights are imperative to nest acceptance.

We have found that having the nests all in one level of the system contributes to better egg quality because it allows all the hens to lay in the same level and have enough nest space and room on the egg belt.