All popular breeds have by now been tried in cages, writes Jack Bratten in Albers Egg Maker, and heavy breeds have just as many fans as Leghorns. Many operators have both types. It is well to remember, though, that heavy breeds consume 10 to 15 per cent more feed; also that the cage operator's first consideration should be eggs.
There is a mixed opinion among cage operators regarding the number of birds to be house in the same cage. Good results have been obtained with two or even three birds, but the trend is toward the single bird in a cage. This, of course, does not apply to battery operations, a field in itself.
Fly control is more necessary than before. Combatting flies is beneficial to the poultryman, as tapeworms go through a stage of incubation in the fly, and the presence of the host encourages infestations. In addition, the common fly is a carrier of many disease organisms that can hurt production and cause high mortality.
DDT and the gamma isomer of benzene hexachloride are being used with good success for fly control. By using them alternately, one has an opportunity to confuse the natural immunity which flies may develop to either alone. Remember that alkali acts as a neutralizer of the active ingredients of benzene hexachloride. We suggest mixing sulphur with 1% benzene hexachloride and dusting the mixture over the dropping about once a week.
We do not recommend the use of a roof spray in cage houses, as it will have killing power for weeks, and flies contacting the treated surface will often fall into the feeders. The birds will immediately eat them, thus exposing themselves to worm infestations.
When replacing cull birds with new stock, remember that birds on both sides of the new arrival will have a tendency to bully the newcomer. Frequently, fighting ensues, and the new arrival will go off feed and drop in egg production. Three-quarter-inch hardware cloth barriers are an economical method of protecting the new arrival.
Be sure to check your watering system daily, as any decreases in water intake will be reflected in egg production. During hot weather, the sun may cause the water to get too warm to drink. If shading is impossible, open the system for a continuous flow of water, thus keeping it cool. Some operators are using wood or metal trough in back-to-back cages. Such a system is easy to clean and the birds seem to consume more water when it is used.
To avoid winter troubles, we recommend the use of an electric-resistant wire wrapped around or run through the pipe to prevent freezing. It is also a good idea to keep the water system slightly open during freezing spells, to insure a movement of water.
One of the original talking points of cages was the freedom from mites that would apparently be possible. This pest has now, however, invaded birds in cages. Operators first notice mites on the eggs in the trays, or on the top eggs after collection and when they have been allowed to set a few minutes prior to grading. On examining the birds, the operator will notice a cluster of mites in the fluff below the vent.
Mites eat into the tissue of the vent, causing a great deal of discomfort to the birds and resulting in a drop in egg production. In examining a cage containing a bird with mites, you can find mites crawling on the wire of the cage end; in some instances they will be between the record card and holder.
In examining the bird, you will find hundreds of mites at any time of the day or night, feeding around tender tissue of the vent. As soon as the bird is turned to expose the vent to light, the mites will seek cover in the fluff.
To control parasites, dilute six to eight ounces of nicotine sulphate in one gallon of water and spray this solution up under the cages, wetting the floor with the birds remaining in the cages. This procedure should be done at night, as it frightens the birds considerably if done in the daylight. Repeat the application within 10 days. Two such treatments should be sufficient.
When we talk of feeding, let's remember that the cage operator cannot afford to use guesswork in making decisions that will affect the cost of producing a dozen eggs.
Feeding for the cage operator poses many more problems than for the floor operator, for it is up to the owner to supply wire-raised birds with everything they need. Wire-raised birds never touch the ground and therefore have no opportunity to forage for the nutrients they require. All must be supplied through the ration. Our advice is for the cage operator to adopt a scientifically proved and profit-tested program of feeding and stick with it. Here are a few of the more important factors to consider:
Clean Up Feed
Insist from the first feeding that the birds clean up their ration before feeding more. This habit, if established during brooding, can have a tremendous effect on the bird's eating habits during their life on wire.
By feeding your birds twice a day, and by insisting that the birds clean up their ration, you will find mash consumption can be more easily maintained at the proper level. A morning feeding around 8:00 a.m. stimulates activity in the hoppers. Then, around 4:00 p.m., when the hoppers are cleaned, another feeding creates interest and the birds go to roost with a full crop.
Wherever possible, anticipate trouble. During extremely hot weather, the birds are likely to neglect the feed troughs, but you can tempt their appetites with a 2 o'clock feeding of pellets, fed at a rate of two pounds per 100 birds on top of the mash.
Any variation in feed consumption means "look out!" – any variation from normal sends the cage-wise operator looking for a reason.
Culling should be a simple operation for we have a record of a bird's performance before us at all times. Operators have generally been able to cull satisfactorily with the exception of answering the question: "If a bird pauses, how long should I wait before culling her?" A rule that seems to be gaining popularity is to check the egg cycle. If a bird has laid long clutches (a dozen or more eggs without a miss) give her three to four weeks to come back. If a hen lays short clutches (two or three eggs) or lays only 16 eggs a month, give her not more than two weeks.
Some poultrymen carry their best hens through a fall molt. A good way to select the best of these birds is to mark the hens that drop feathers almost over night. Poor layers molt slowly.
Birds on wire are more susceptible to temperature variations than birds on the floor. For this reason, many producers cool their houses with roof sprinklers and provide other heat and draft protection devices. Since the chicken in a non-sweating animal, it is more necessary to guard against overheating than exposure to low temperatures. An increase of six to eight degrees over normal will bring on heavy mortality. At an air temperature of 80 degrees F., a hen's body temperature begins rising, and by the time 100 to 105 degrees is reached, death by heat prostration occurs.
Egg production is noticeably decreased by continuous exposure to 90-degree temperatures. One progressive cage operator has two thermometers to insure accuracy.
The cage system is proving itself popular wherever weather conditions permit, but the prospective poultryman or the present operator should never forget the keystones of any good poultry system consist of: (1) good breeding; (2) proper and adequate feeding; and (3) continuous good management.
Problems with laying birds in cages
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