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Layers Take to Enriched Colonies

17 August 2004
Big Dutchman

UK - Eurovent 625a has proved itself in the UK, according to Big Dutchman. The farm reports improved hen welfare and the achievement of egg production targets.

One year on, results from one of the first independent producers in the UK to invest in enriched colonies – Lincolnshire Chickens – confirms both the positive welfare aspects of the system and the ability of birds to perform to target.

Lincolnshire Chickens was among the first egg producers to invest in an enriched colony unit. Last March, the first of two 28,500 flocks of Hy-Line had been placed and were some 31 weeks old, laying at over 95 per after peaking at 96 per cent four weeks earlier. At that time, feed intake was just 92g per bird.

But despite such a good start, Lincolnshire Chickens managing director Melvin Trofer, Terry Ellener of Hy-Line UK and Kevin Howse of Newquip (which supplied the Big Dutchman Eurovent 625a – EU colony unit) knew the benefits of the system could not be confirmed until the laying cycle was completed and results analysed in detail.

Analysis looked at 11 key factors:

  • Production
  • Feed efficiency
  • Egg quality
  • Saleable eggs
  • Feathering
  • Egg cleanliness
  • Behaviour
  • Use of nests
  • Use of the scratching area
  • Use of perches
  • Profitability

"It will only be at depletion when we can be certain we have fulfilled our aim of high performance and at the same time are able to confirm the ‘five freedoms’ have been met," explained Mr Trofer.

Flock Results

Age at depletion: 71 weeks 6 days
Hen housed average*: 321
Feed Intake: 110.09g
Egg Mass: 19.81kg
Seconds**: 9.05
Liveability: 96.36%
Bodyweight end of lay: 1.92kg
Average egg weight: 63.72g
*The hen housed average (HHA) refers to eggs sent to the packer and excludes eggs which were retained.
**The seconds figure refers to packing station and farm seconds.

The scratching area was well used by Hy–Line birds

The system appeared to satisfy the birds' Five Freedoms

The flock was depleted at 71 weeks and six days, and the results from the first flock could be analysed. Messers Trofer, Ellener and Howse were convinced of the system's merits very early in the production cycle, so it was no surprise that they were even more certain of its benefits when they examined the production data.

At the time of the second visit, the second flock was 60 weeks old, had peaked at 95 per cent and to date, liveability was 98.73%. One of the first comments Mr Trofer made was that there would be problems catching birds at depletion but these proved unfounded. In fact, the processor commented on the fact that they had 'too many feathers' for end-of-lay birds.

Observation of the birds throughout the laying cycle confirmed they used the nests and scratching areas. The perches were also used, as evidenced by the lines of manure in the belt beneath the perches.

However, Mr Trofer stressed that for the system to work efficiently, it was essential to incorporate air mixing along the length of the unit, which not only provided extra air for the birds but helped keep the manure dry.

Looking at the 11 key performance factors, Mr Trofer said production was well in line with what he would have expected from birds housed in conventional cages. Feed efficiency was better but there was no obvious reason for this other than birds having more to do and thus feeding to satisfy their appetite, rather than out of boredom.

There was no problem with egg quality: Mr Trofer commented that he had never produced cleaner eggs. The processor's comment on feather cover to the end of lay was, he felt, a testament to the overall advantages of the system. Bird behaviour was as anticipated. They used the nests as scratching areas, perched well and, with more to occupy them, there was never a sign of feather picking.

"But more important was the fact that the 'Five Freedoms' were satisfied, as the many visitors to the unit commented. There do not appear to be any downsides to the enriched colony system," he said.

However, while the system clearly satisfied welfare issues, it had to be looked at in terms of economics of production.

Mr Trofer was adamant that the flock achieved the economic targets with a better income than conventional cages based on his in-house points system, which analyses all flocks on the same cost/income basis. This allows him to gauge flocks on an equal footing, eliminating variables such as changing egg prices and feed costs.

"The colony system is without doubt the way forward but we are being held up in our investment decisions as we await the 2005 EU report into the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive," he said.

His opinion was shared by Mr Howse, who pointed to the fact that Big Dutchman had over one million birds in enriched colonies in Europe, including more than 200,000 in the UK. "We have worked hard with our customers in refining the system in light of field experience, and are certain that the system satisfies the Directive," concluded Mr Howse.

Editor's note: The Five Freedoms for the assessment of animal welfare are: freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.

ThePoultrySite News DeskRead more Big Dutchman News here

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