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Alternative Housing Supplement: Unique properties

A roundup of what sets various cage-free and enriched systems available in Canada apart from each other.

October 18, 2019
By Treena Hein

The decisions on which alternative system to choose is complex for producers, involving a wide range of factors.

The decisions on which alternative system to choose is complex for producers, involving a wide range of factors, from market forces to durability. To help you, Canadian Poultry has contacted housing manufacturers to point out particular features of their systems that are unique, and also their best pieces of advice for making your choice.

First, here is a roundup of the latest cage-free and enriched systems offered by the housing makers that responded, and a bit about what sets each apart from the pack.

Hellmann’s aviary and enriched systems
Hellmann offers both aviary and enriched systems. Its newest enriched cages originate from its first EURO cages, and updates over time to improve hen performance include, spokesperson Andreas Moors explains, moving the location of the nest to the front, which provides a shorter distance for eggs to roll onto the belt. The scratching area is now at the back wall of Hellman enriched cages, and the material of scratching area mat and nest mat has been improved. Hellman has also changed the dimensions of the enriched cage system multiple times, from smaller groups of birds to 22 to 24 birds per compartment, Moors says. The claw shorteners consist of breast plates that include holes, and Hellmann has modified the length and amount of nest curtains as well.

Jansen’s Comfort 2.0 aviary system
Jansen Poultry Equipment introduced its Comfort 2.0 aviary system last year (distributed in Canada by Meller Poultry). “It is an open, multi-tier system making optimal use of the space in a new or existing house,” says Jansen spokesperson Ciska Borkus, “with perches, feed, and water situated at different levels in the system to stimulate the natural behaviour of the birds…The system is applicable for free-range and organic housing and is designed to create more living space in the house, making it possible to house more hens.” The Jansen Comfort 2.0 features the LayMaxx laying nest, ensuring high nest acceptance through a comfortable premium mat, a warm-feeling enclosure and no drafts.

Clark Ag Systems’ Tecno Plus Series enriched layer system
Clark Ag Systems’ Tecno Plus Series enriched layer system features a patented durable v-link feed chain and swing soft elevator. “The transversal perch positioning in the Plus system allows hens to move calmly and comfortably, offering added strength, stability and very clean air throughout the system,” spokesperson Stephanie Huitema says. “The illuminated scratching position in the centre of the house allows for uninterrupted natural scratching and dust bathing for the hens. The dual front nest allows for a more even distribution of egg laying and creates a relaxing atmosphere for the flock with an additional laying area.” Clark’s in-house lighting is strategically placed to give producers better control of the birds’ needs and helps mimic natural lighting, thus maximizing lay time, egg production and rest periods.

Big Dutchman’s VillaFLEX hybrid multi-tier aviary
Big Dutchman has developed the VillaFLEX hybrid multi-tier aviary that can be operated as an enriched colony housing system and can also be converted at a later date to a cage-free aviary, making it very versatile in addition to safeguarding your investment in the event that regulations evolve. “The VillaFLEX has been successfully tried and tested in the North American market in several large commercial operations with proven results,” spokesperson Ron Wardrop notes. “Another unique and important feature is the expert support that comes with the system. Big Dutchman is the only company that has bird behavioralists who help with the transition to cage-free production. We will work closely with you to maximize the opportunity for successful laying.”

Salmet’s Pedigrow 2 system
Salmet’s All-In-One, Combi Barn and HighRise 3 cage-free systems are designed with high nest acceptance, advanced manure removal, long system lifespan and hygienic conditions. “Depending on the type of barn and how the client would like to manage his/her flock, we choose the best solution,” says Larissa (Ruby) Leitch at Ruby360, distributor in Canada. “Also, it is possible to combine the system types.” The Salmet nests have soft floor mats and a darker atmosphere for hen comfort. During the night, the nest floor is lifted to avoid birds sleeping in it and soiling it. The back wall can also be easily folded down for maintenance and cleaning. The side walls of the nest are made from steel, which Leitch says does not allow dirt to adhere as much as other materials. The choice of thickness and type of material for different parts of the system are designed for long life and the manure removal system comes with a durable stainless steel scraper.

Fienhage’s Easy 100 Aviary system
The Fienhage North America Easy 100 Aviary sits lower, so an average-sized person can walk it and see everything from the floor. Spokesperson Kevin Zehr (at Ontario distributor Weeden Environments) notes that “as we transition from conventional to enriched colonies and then cage-free, we have to pay more attention to animal husbandry.  We used to tell the birds what to do. Now in a cage-free system the bird tells you what to do…We know that brown birds will beat up your systems and Fienhage has been selling cage-free systems where they are almost exclusively using brown birds. Therefore, you will see unmatched strength and quality in their enriched colony systems as well, which not only shows in the heavier gauge of steel but in their proper slope levels on their floors to minimize cracked eggs.”

Chore-Time’s Vike Aviary system
The Chore-Time Vike Aviary system offers multiple configurations and widths to fit a variety of house sizes, spokesperson Jim Kraft says. “The system is highly adaptable to many poultry house layouts, including multi-story houses with integral flooring,” he explains. “The low-profile design helps to fit existing poultry houses that are being renovated. Various configurations can be used to create the desired layout and promote optimal movement of hens throughout the house. Stainless steel legs ensure stable, sturdy construction.” Integrated VALEGO nests promote natural bird behaviour and area easy to install, clean and maintain.

Vencomatic’s Bolegg Gallery cage-free system
The Vencomatic Bolegg Gallery cage-free system allows both birds and farmers to easily move throughout the system, spokesperson Jassen Jackman explains. Low levels of stress and injury help hens reach their maximum production potential. “The Bolegg Gallery also offers flexible designs for two-, three- and four-tier systems and incorporates features like our tipping nest floor, the Vencomat nest pad, plastic slats and integration with ventilation systems like our Eco ACU heat exchangers,” Jackman notes. “These features allow us to optimize your barn layout, produce the cleanest eggs, save operating costs and reduce the environmental impact of your farm. Finally, we incorporate high-quality materials, including Magnelis galvanization, that are durable and resistant to wear, while being gentle on eggs and the hen. We know the investment in equipment is significant and it must provide long lasting value.”

Choosing the right housing system
Equipment companies provide quick tips for producers in choosing the right housing for their needs.

Jansen: “One of the most important things to look for in a system is a high nest acceptance. This ensures a maximum number of first-class saleable eggs. The birds need comfortable, secluded and hygienic surroundings to lay their eggs and perform optimally.”

Hellmann: “It’s the best idea if the farmer visits another farmer…Hellmann has more than 400 customers across the country…[who] organize open houses…We even had farmers from Canada who travelled all the way to Germany to see some of our recent installations.”

Clark Ag Systems: “You should think about the code of practice and if the system you are looking at checks all the boxes. Animal welfare is extremely important…Production stats as well as the quality of the construction/materials of the system for longevity, [are also important].”

Chore-Time: “Do research on performance and results of systems regarding quality of materials, durability and company reputation.”

Big Dutchman:“When considering all of the equipment choices available, a producer should consider the direction of the industry and make an investment into the most proven and profitable system possible. Ever-changing guidelines and regulations mean it is important to partner with a manufacturer that understands these challenges and has the personnel and expertise to help provide solutions.”

Vencomatic:  “We recommend [farmers] focus on their long-term return-on-investment. Be sure to consider all factors including barn design, equipment layouts and lifespan, labour requirements, operational and maintenance costs, bird comfort and results.”

Salmet:  “We have experienced that [farmers in] countries who are in transition to cage-free egg production underestimate the importance of a well-reared bird. The success of the cage-free flock depends highly on the way the bird is raised, to perform optimally the bird needs to be raised in a matching system. Take some time to visit the rearing [pullet] farm and see for yourself how the birds behave.”

Fienhage: “Make sure you look at the long-term and calculate your labour and maintenance based on the strength of all the components, and [whether they will] stand up for the next 20 years.”