Study Examines Labour Requirement for Different Hen Housing Systems

US - Per hen housed, cage systems required 20 minutes labour, cage-free 29 minutes and free-range systems one hour and 16 minutes on average between 17 and 37 weeks of age, according to a new study. There was no effect of strain alone.
calendar icon 2 May 2014
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This study from the North Carolina State University substantiates previous findings that moving from intensive to extensive production systems will increase man-hours per hen by three or four times.

Growing consumer awareness concerning layer hen welfare has caused the egg industry to consider alternative environments for egg-laying hens, reports Kenneth E. Anderson in his paper in Journal of Applied Poultry Research. However, he continues, the time commitment for alternative care has not been researched in detail since the 1950s.

In two experiments, he and his colleagues in Raleigh evaluated the man-hour commitment associated with three different environments, including free-range (R), cage-free (CF) and cage systems (C).

Concurrently within the R and CF systems, three strains of birds – Hy-Line Silver Brown, Hy-Line Brown and Barred Plymouth Rock – were examined to see if strain differences were associated with man-hours associated for care.

All birds were raised within the environment they were going to be laying in at 17 weeks of age, the time data collection started. The system study was a three-factor randomised design that commenced at 17 weeks, when the laying phase commenced with eight R replicates, 24 CF replicates and four C replicates.

The strain study consisted of R and CF systems and three strains of Hy-Line Brown, Hy-Line Silver Brown and Barred Plymouth Rock.

All husbandry was provided as appropriate to the production system and in accordance with the approved animal care procedures.

Time was recorded for all of the procedures done within the replicates, i.e. egg collection, feeding and so on.

The data were transformed first by man-hours per bird housed and second by man-hours per bird surviving. All time data were analysed using PROC GLM in SAS.

Man-hours per hen decreased from 17 to 37 weeks in all production systems. The production environment C required 0.334 hours per hen housed, which is lower as compared with either the CF at 0.486 hours per hen housed or R at 1.268 hours per hen housed.

Strain alone did not influence man-hours, concluded Anderson; however, the strain with the poorest livability had the greatest man-hour requirement for hens surviving.


Anderson K.E. 2014. Time study examining the effect of range, cage-free, and cage environments on man-hours committed to bird care in 3 brown egg layer strains. J. Appl. Poult. Res. 23(1):108-115. doi: 10.3382/japr.2013-00852

Further Reading

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