Julian Madeley, director general, International Egg Commission, told the audience at the recent United Egg Producers meeting in Atlanta that he believed egg producers and equipment suppliers would continue to innovate and that, within a decade, enriched colonies would produce eggs for the same or at a lesser cost than conventional cages.
Besides the mandated additional square inches of floor space in enriched colonies, the colonies are somewhat taller than conventional cages, so enriched housing provides more three-dimensional space per bird. Madeley discussed the newer enriched systems in Europe, which are 8 feet wide. A wider colony means that more of the width of the house is devoted to bird space and less to aisleway than in a house equipped with narrower colonies. More birds per cubic foot of house space means you reduce the bird deficit of an enriched versus a conventional cage house. But, a wider colony may create challenges with accessing birds, ventilating the house, or pulling the manure belt.
Madeley's main point was that the egg industry will continue to innovate, find technical solutions, and drive to be more efficient. I agree with him that many things that are technical limitations today, such as how wide a manure belt can be or how long a house can be and still be properly ventilated, will change over time.
What can't be done today might be done tomorrow, but there are limitations. There is a simple way of looking at the problem. When comparing the enriched housing requirements in the Egg Bill with the UEP-Certified conventional cage standard, enriched cages provide nearly twice the three-dimensional space per bird as conventional cages. Cage systems and housing designs can be tweaked to minimize the space differential, but ultimately there is still a space difference. Improved bird performance is really the only way to pay for this space differential. The higher the grain price, the more likely it will be that enriched colonies will pay for themselves.