Small flocks: Stacked cages vs moveable pens

Comparing two systems for raising backyard broilers
calendar icon 22 May 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

In recent years, there has been a movement by homesteading flock owners to produce their own foods, including poultry. With recent increases in inflation, land prices for new homesteaders have increased and this has caused them to settle for small plots of land.

Since chicken feed represents roughly 70% of production costs, every gram of feed saved could save the flock owner money.

Stacked cages could help utilize land space while still being able to produce an inexpensive product.

Matthew Hughes, an undergraduate student at Auburn University, and staff at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, evaluated two small flock management systems — outdoor moveable pens and stacked cages — for body weight gain, feed intake, and feed conversion. The results of the study were presented at the 2023 International Poultry Scientific Forum.

At two weeks of age, 88 Ross 708 broiler chicks were placed in four outside pens with ten birds each (n=40) and four, 4-level stacked cage systems with three birds per level (n=48). The moveable pens measured 150 x 100 x 50 cm LWH.

Pens were moved daily to fresh grass and clover mix that was not taller than 8 cm. Moveable pens had a gravity fed feeder and a cup drinker.

Each cage system level measured 91 x 49 x 50 cm LWH. Cages were kept in a covered garage with a large door and no access to grass. Cages had a feed trough on the front and nipple drinkers.

All birds were grown for four additional weeks and given the same diet ad libitum. Statistical analysis was performed for body weight gain, feed intake and feed conversion and mortality with statistical differences at P<0.05.

Neither outdoor nor caged management systems influenced feed conversion ratios, which were 1.57 and 1.56, respectively (P=0.8837).

The type of management system did affect body weight gain and feed intake (P<0.0001). The birds outside consumed 569 more grams of feed and gained 349 more grams body weight than the birds inside.

During the study mortality in the pen system was 4/40 and cage mortality was 0/48 birds (P=0.0392).

The researchers concluded that the additional gain observed for birds raised outside could help the farmer bring birds to market in less time. However, the potential for increased mortality must also be considered.

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