8 considerations for cage-free laying hen nutrition
Egg producers must account for more than just housing when changing production practices
The cage-free layer is subject to less controlled conditions and — particularly in the case of free-range — is exposed to a variety of weather conditions. Energy levels in the diet will therefore be a key consideration to make sure nutrients are not diverted from egg production. Similarly, any increase in hen feed intake needs to be balanced with protein levels to avoid unwanted increases in egg size.
Read the entire report about cage-free laying hen nutrition exclusively in the March issue of Feed Strategy.
Outside of a cage, hens are in greater contact with their feces and, if allowed outside, the number of disease challenges can increase. This creates a need for increased gut health and immune support. With any cage-free system, there is greater opportunity for bird interaction, which can lead to an increase in vices; therefore, fiber provision is a key consideration.
This article explores several feeding and production practices to enhance the health and performance of a cage-free flock.
Beyond the housing investments, cage-free layers require alterations to their feeding programs. Here are eight considerations producers and nutritionists need to keep in mind:
- Energy balance
- Controlling egg size
- Trace elements
- More on fiber
- Gut health and immunity
- Pullet rearing
- Breed considerations
- Environmental variability
Nutritional guidelines are available for each breed, with specifications linked to feed intakes. It is therefore important to know what the hens are eating on a particular farm to tailor the diet accordingly. These can form the basis of the hen’s diet; with further amendments related to specific housing systems, egg markets or climatic conditions. Specific management guides for keeping cage-free hens are also produced by genetics companies.
With cage-free production, there is much greater variability, dependent on many environmental factors. Producers need to get to know their houses and flocks — working closely with feed companies to tailor nutritional specifications.