Cage-free Layer Housing: System Meets Ventilation

cage-free layer hens

Photo by: Valli of Italy

Egg laying hens were brought inside in the 1950s to help protect from diseases, environmental threats, and predators. Feeding the world with low cost protein requires a commercial way of thinking. Large buildings with multi-stacked animal husbandry systems were designed to help protect the hens in a healthier and safer environment keeping cost in mind. Changes in equipment demands, ventilation, regulatory requirements, and housing structures require more thought in order to provide the best environment for today’s, as well as tomorrow’s, layer production.

Cage-free production introduces many new challenges for producers when building or remodeling houses. Cage-free hens have the ability to roam in all directions inside the house causing distortions in air patterns, heat distribution, extra dust and dander. Ventilation becomes one of the most important factors in creating an inside environment that facilitates optimal production, bird health, acceptable working environment for the staff, and still maintaining production cost at acceptable levels to provide consumers with an affordable protein source.

For a cage-free layer house to be successful, the animal husbandry system and ventilation need to work together. Knowing what system will be used and how densely populated it will be will influence ventilation design and together these determine the length, height, and width that the building needs to be. Building a project/partnership with each supplier will help protect the customer’s long term investment by insuring that all bases are covered.

Building the house around the system and ventilation design requirements will help provide benefits in performance, efficiency, and management, especially with Aviary systems.


Cage-free Layer Housing System

cage-free layer hens

Photo by: Valli of Italy

For years, producers have raised layers in multi-stacked conventional systems producing a very safe, cost efficient, and reliable protein source at lower prices. The later systems are belted, separating the hens from their feces and removing it from the house on a regular basis. Keeping environmental footprints smaller, interior ammonia levels lower ensuring better bird health, and disease to a minimum.

With the higher consumer focus on animal welfare, producers must meet the consumer and customer demands for roomier, enriched housing facilities. All types of cage-free layer systems are monitored and should meet animal welfare guidelines and certifiers’ requirements for their customers. Cage-free production comes with new challenges compared to a closed system. These systems allow the hens to utilize the vertical and horizontal spaces inside the building which require larger building sizes to house similar layer capacities as most are used to. The systems have a series of perches, nests, watering and feed lines. Birds are given the freedom to move freely around the barn, under and above the Aviary, scratch in the litter, and dust bathe. This is a huge change for producers that have only experienced closed systems in the past. This requires a different view on ventilation design, house management practices, and staffing requirements. Systems by different manufacturers vary in set-up, management, capacity, and design, making the collaboration of manufacturers and producers imperative to the producer’s success.


Cage-free Layer House Ventilation

cage-free layer ventilation circulation fans

Minimum Ventilation problems? Our Hemisphere Fan is proven to prevent and/or reduce temperature variations throughout the house during minimum ventilation stages in cold environments. If the ventilation is properly designed, the Hemispheres can efficiently support the minimum ventilation stages almost independently, saving energy, improving feed conversion, and increasing egg production.

With the birds roaming freely within the house vertically and horizontally, ventilation design should be treated as a top priority when configuring a house. Poor ventilation is the number one cause of production loss, decreased efficiency, bird health issues, mortality, and even a factor for floor eggs.

The local geographical area, ventilation system, house design, type of system, and bird density all affect the ventilation routine on a specific farm, and no two are the same. Running minimum ventilation helps replace stagnant, stale air with fresh air, but too much ventilation will over-dry the litter making for even dustier conditions. Air circulation without creating drafts will help reduce drastic changes in air temp throughout the house – a little bit of variance will allow birds to find their own comfort zone, but too much will cause them to huddle together and may cause increased aggression and unnecessary losses.

Working with lower static pressures can help reduce the owner’s overall expenses on equipment longevity, higher fan efficiencies, less drafting, more consistent air flow patterns, utilities, and overall production cost. Lower static pressures will keep air moving gently around the house and through all levels of the system, even along the floor. This helps keep ammonia levels low, the litter a suitable consistency, and birds comfortable and productive.


Have questions about cage-free systems or ventilation design? Our egg experts would love to meet you! We’ll be at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota March 15-16 in Booth 1120. Bring your questions; we’ve got answers!


Author: Steve Lamar, Regional Egg Sales Manager, VAL-CO