There are no overall performance advantages associated with range production, said Dr. Kenneth Anderson, Department of Poultry Science, North Carolina State University, during the Egg Production Workshop at the 2012 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minn. The workshop presented study results conducted at the Piedmont Research Station comparing range, cage-free and conventional egg production.
The study observed the performance, egg quality and component percentages of eggs from hatch mates of two commercial brown egg strains and a heritage strain among the three housing environments. Man-hour requirements and beak trimming were also examined. The birds within all three environments were raised with the same rearing program.
Eggs produced by the hens with full range access had no quality advantage, but there were differences associated with the yolk color and shell strength, with the range hens producing eggs with darker pigmentation of the yolk material. The cage-free hens produced eggs with the lowest percentage of blood spots. Other quality factors were similar between all three environments.
Beak trimming appears to positively impact production characteristics, according to Anderson, which favors the continued use of beak trimming to control cannibalism mortality and feather pecking in egg layers. Mortality was the highest among the range hens at 22 percent.
Moving from intensive to extensive production systems requires significant increases in time commitments: a 45 percent increase in man-hours from conventional to cage-free, a 279 percent increase in man-hours from conventional to range, and 161 percent increase in man-hours from cage-free to range.