Enriched Layer Housing: Step by step
By Treena Hein
Optimizing the installation and operation of enriched housing.
By Treena Hein
As more Canadian egg farmers decide to convert to enriched housing, the industry gains added collective knowledge – and is ready to share that knowledge. In May at the (virtual) National Poultry Show, Harold Meadows and Shawn MacDonald gave their pointers for those choosing to go enriched in one or more barns. They are both technical sales reps with Clark Ag Systems. Canadian Poultry also contacted two farmers with recent installations to gather tips.
Early planning stages
First up are a couple of points that producers need to consider in the early barn-planning stages. Meadows notes that farmers should consult their electricity supplier, since enriched cage systems need a larger power requirement in many cases.
“For example, at Clark, our number one conversion required a larger pole transformer and our second build, we required a larger transformer and three-phase service at the road,” he recalls. “Depending on whether three-phase power is available, this can be a costly and large upgrade that needs to be considered in the very early barn-planning and budgeting stages.”
Also, during the planning stages, if a larger footprint barn is required (which is very often the case for enriched), farmers needs to ensure that the new facility will meet all the minimum setbacks that provincial and county regulations require. This can have an impact on how large your new barn will be, which will directly affect your bird population numbers.
Indeed, regulations in your area, Meadows says, may make it important for farmers to look at a multi-tier housing system in a smaller footprint building in order to keep bird populations equal to what they were in your conventional housing system.
In terms of manure management, Meadows notes that enriched system manure belts are much wider and longer than traditional systems and need to be cleaned and scraped much more frequently.
“Since manure can build up fast and heavy on the wider belts, the risk of a belt snapping or stretching becomes magnified with excessive manure build-up in enriched systems, which can result in a costly repair, system downtime and air quality issues,” he says.
“We recommend that belts be scraped a minimum of twice a week to ensure good belt health. On the other hand, over-scraping manure can lead to inefficient scraper performance and excessive energy usage. So, find that happy medium.”
MacDonald adds that farmers should also keep in mind that ventilation will very likely be much different in enriched barns. “Since manure is dryer in the enriched barn, air quality is better, especially in the winter months,” he says. “Drier manure requires less energy and resources to manage, and your ventilation program and the overall environment in the barn is better for the birds. It also makes manure easier to clean off the belts.”
Make sure your ventilation programs are set properly to minimize over-ventilation, keep humidity levels correct and minimize your energy costs. MacDonald adds that, depending on renovation to existing housing and age of ventilation system, a ventilation enhancement may be due.
Dave Hiebert, co-manager at Davalen Farms in Abbotsford, B.C. (owned by Henry and Deb Penner), has found ventilation to be excellent in their one enriched barn, finished in January 2021 (Big Dutchman Avech 2240, five tiers, four rows).
Hiebert describes air quality, due to the barn design and tunnel ventilation, as “incredible.” He adds that “we had 44°C weather [earlier this summer] with no changes at all. No change to feed and water consumption and production. And no mortality during that heat wave in that barn.”
Ross and Barbara McIntosh have also found ventilation working well in their enriched barn in both colder and warmer parts of the year since they built an enriched barn at their farm in Seaforth, Ont., a little more than a year ago (Tecno Enriched Plus 94, four tiers, five rows). “The manure is dryer,” Ross adds. “And the belts are working well.”
Over their many enriched installations, Clark Ag staff have not seen any benefits to using both aisle and in-system lighting in enriched barns during production. Aisle lighting is only usually used between flocks.
However, Meadows and MacDonald note that it’s critical to position in-system lights correctly, keeping the nests as dim as possible and scratch areas bright. In short, proper lighting encourages natural behaviours and top production.
Proper partitioning for catching as well as the promotion of even nest use is also critical in larger format enriched systems. Hiebert has found that in their 12 by eight-foot cages, partitions in the middle are a must.
But size of cage aside, every enriched housing system requires close monitoring of shunt timing of the egg belt. Hiebert has done some adjustment of this as the days got longer this spring and then got shorter after summer solstice. “We have a camera on a section so we can see what’s happening at 6 AM, 6:15, 6:30 and so on and make small adjustments,” he explains.
Overall, the McIntoshs have also found getting the shunt timing right in the morning to be the challenge with enriched, but all is going very well. They like the nests at both ends of each unit and the multiple shorter perches running back to front, as it better spreads out the birds for perching and gives them more room to otherwise move around. “We’ve finished our first flock and are now in middle of our second one,” Ross says. “It’s something to see them all roosting on their perches if you check the barn at night.”
MacDonald notes that feed consumption is slightly higher in enriched system, as the birds are more active. So, it is critical to manage your feed program, bird nutrition, and potential areas for feed wastage both inside and outside the system.
If everything is working well, MacDonald notes that enriched systems will provide improved bird health and mortality rates, as well as more feathering at end of lay. With diligent daily inspection of bird health and equipment function, health issues will be minimized and production will be maximized.
While an enriched system has many more moving parts, MacDonald says, if farmers stay on top of things, “An enriched barn will service your hens and your bottom line very well for years to come.”