An innovative laying house that meets the needs of layers was officially opened in the Netherlands in April. Known as the Rondeel, the unit incorporates the findings of research carried out by Wageningen University into a sustainable future for the layer industry, and was officially opened by a representative of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture and the president of Albert Heijn, the biggest supermarket group in the Netherlands.
Wageningen’s research project, called Houden van Hennen, looked at how to ensure a sustainable future for the layer industry, and examined areas of conflict between corporate social responsibility, the needs of laying hens, and an optimum working environment for the poultry farmer.
Amongst questions asked by the researchers was “What does a hen want?”, and amongst the answers was that a hen needs an environment that provides it with the space and facilities to meet its behavioral needs.
The new development was built by its namesake Rondeel, part of the Venco group, which includes Vencomatic, Prinzen and Agro supply, but Rondeel operates as an independent company with its own general manager Ruud Zanders.
In plan, Rondeel resembles a cartwheel, with five modules radiating from a central point and covering 270 degrees of the total area. The remaining 90 degrees allows access to the central core for deliveries and the transfer of farm-packed eggs.
Measuring 245 feet in diameter, the unit contains both day and night quarters. The night quarters have been designed to cater to the hens’ primary needs, such as eating, sleeping, resting and laying. They have been equipped with the latest technology, including laying nests, the perchery system, and feeding trays.
The day quarters have been designed to facilitate behaviors such as scratching and bathing. The day quarters are equipped with an insulated sidewall that can be fully rolled up to create a uniform climate in both the day and night quarters, allowing many more hens to scratch around and enjoy a dust bath than in traditional systems.
The Rondeel currently houses some 30,000 hens, and each hen benefits from a total of 1.6 square feet of space.
Around the house, hens also have access to what has been described as a “wooded fringe”. This has been extensively planted, including with fruit trees, and can be sealed off if necessary, for example should there be the threat of a disease outbreak. To encourage hens to venture out from their housing, grain is scattered outdoors.
Integration into the landscape was a key concern for the municipality of Barneveld where the unit is located. The Rondeel is described as rising from the landscape like a hill and green embankments are to built around it with additional planting.
While the Rondeel may have resulted in a favourable environment for its hens, the house has also been designed to bring additional benefits.
Manure at the site is rapidly dried and subsequently redried, and its ammonia content is likely to be some 50% lower than in alternative systems. The manure at the Rondeel has a dry matter percentage of approximately 85%, meaning that it can be processed and does not have to be treated as waste. This has a significant impact on transport costs, as there is less water to transport. The fact that the manure is redried in air reduces particulate matter by 50%. The Rondeel is naturally ventilated, there is no forced airflow.
However, this is not the only advantage of a system that is naturally ventilated in its entirety. Rondeel uses less energy than alternative systems. The possibility of installing solar panels is also under consideration and the entire complex could become energy neutral.
Eggs can be sorted and packed on-site, meaning that unnecessary transport is eliminated. Sustainable egg packing has been developed in conjunction with fibre company Enkev. Egg boxes are made from natural coconut fibre and natural rubber. The boxes are fully biodegradable and contain seven eggs.
The Wageningen research noted that, when choosing which products to buy, consumers are prompted by emotions and values, not simply by price. By responding to these values, eggs from systems such as Rondeel can command higher prices.
Later this year, eggs from Rondeel will carry the Beter Leven mark, which will be awarded by the Dutch animal welfare organization Dierenbescherming. Since June, some 500 cases of eggs each week are being supplied to the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Hein and are being sold under the AH Puur & Eerlijk (Pure and Honest) label at Euro 1.89 (US$2.33) for a box of seven.
Consumers wanting to see how the Rondeel hens are kept are encouraged to visit the complex, where a visitors’ tunnel has been set up.
The Barneveld municipality has already granted permission for a second Rondeel house, and further installations are thought to be planned. Initial conversations have taken place with producers in Germany and the UK.