New cage-free layer housing may lower production costs

An innovative equipment-wrap construction design for layer houses offers benefits in construction speed, cost savings.

The designers of the Wrap-the-Equipment-style cage-free layer house say the method can significantly reduce construction timelines and costs, along with other benefits. | Courtesy Summit Livestock Facilities
The designers of the Wrap-the-Equipment-style cage-free layer house say the method can significantly reduce construction timelines and costs, along with other benefits. | Courtesy Summit Livestock Facilities

An agriculture construction company is teaming up with Rose Acre Farms to bring a new style of cage-free house to the market which, it says, can offer far more efficiency than a traditional design.

In April 2017, Summit Livestock Facilities and Rose Acre held a press event to tour a near-complete Rose Acre layer house in Pulaski County, Indiana. The Summit Livestock design team explained some of the new innovations developed for cage-free layer housing. Leaders from Summit and Rose Acre took questions from media and industry leaders about the new Wrap-the-Equipment construction design used at the Rose Acre complex.

Guests toured a cage-free layer house expected to house 378,000 layers by the end of May 2017. The nearly completed facility is one of three Wrap-the-Equipment-style cage-free houses built at Rose Acre’s Pulaski County complex, which replaces six cage houses torn down to make way for the new build.

The first 378,000-bird house in Pulaski County went online in January 2017, and the third house at the complex will receive birds in July. According to Summit, each house of this size designed in the Wrap-the-Equipment style comes at a cost to producers of nearly $45-55 per bird, or roughly $10 million.

Wrap-the-Equipment’s design

In an interview with Egg Industry, Miles Ridgway, the construction company’s president, and Bryan Culp, Summit’s poultry specialist, explained the concept behind the system.

As the name suggests, the building style uses a reinforced aviary housing system as the building’s super structure, then wraps the structure horizontally with two-inch-thick insulated metal panels to form the rest of the layer house. By wrapping the structure horizontally, the design eliminates secondary framing and streamlines the design without compromising performance.

Miles Ridgway Summit

Summit Livestock Facilities President Miles Ridgway speaks at a press event commemorating the near-completion of wrap the equipment style houses at a Rose Acre Farms complex in Indiana. | Alyssa Conway

This differs from the traditional concept of building a large layer barn and then installing the equipment inside of it. The design’s construction modifies and adds to cage-free roosts as the support structure, allowing roosts and equipment to be installed simultaneously before finishing the house off with roofing and siding. According to Summit, this leads to “an improved, balanced life cycle between the facility and equipment for maximized efficiency of the infrastructure investment.”

Ridgway and Culp said the concept’s short-term advantage over a traditional building design is the speed of the building process and the lower overall cost of construction. This means hens are placed sooner and eggs head to market about eight weeks sooner than in a traditional build, providing millions of cage-free eggs to consumers earlier for a 378,000-bird house.  

“To figure out how to build capacity with the least cost possible is absolutely critical for the protein industry,” said Ed Bahler, Summit CEO.

Other Wrap-the-Equipment design benefits include eliminating redundancies in materials and labor, giving the producer a more accurate timetable for when the house will be ready for birds, and air-tight metal panels that offer superior ventilation and greater efficiency during the summer and winter months, they said. Further, the materials used to build the structure are limited to surfaces that lower the possibility of harboring bacteria and other pathogens. Stainless steel is used to reinforce areas that have proven to be weaker in past systems, extending the system’s life span to at least 50 years, Summit leaders say.

Wrap Equipment Construction Site

Wrap-the-Equipment-style housing uses a building plan calling for the actual aviary housing structure to support the house. A frame is built around the housing and siding is attached, rather than using a fully framed and self-supported house then putting the equipment inside afterward. | Alyssa Conway

Benefits in the layer house

The new cage-free facilities have no doors, allowing hens to sit, stand, roost, run and fly on multiple levels. A separating wall down the middle of the house allows for separate feed, water and ventilation to be provided on both sides of the house, with hens kept in groups spaced at about 50 feet for optimum welfare. An angled design within the house results in fewer floor eggs than a traditional design, and a conveyor belt transports the eggs. Plenums built into the house’s outer walls enable air circulation, resulting in low ammonia levels in the house.

The design also includes another conveyor system that moves manure out of the house to lessen the odor for the hens and workers. Rose Acre’s cage-free facilities are also sustainable – producing a 12-14 percent moisture content manure, which they say farmers desire for a high-quality fertilizer, and also attracts fewer flies to the house because it is drier.

Summit says another advantage of the Wrap-the-Equipment design system is that it requires less labor than a conventional system. Whereas a conventional system may take 15 to 20 people to manage one of the houses at Rose Acre’s Pulaski County facility, the new design requires only four or five employees to manage a house.

Wrap-the-Equipment’s origins

The concept was engineered by Summit, but was helped along by Rose Acre – the second-largest egg producer in the U.S. and one of the world’s largest. When Rose Acre workers were tearing down an old layer house, they noticed the resiliency of the cages and how well they stood up, whereas the rest of the house collapsed entirely. Summit got a call from Rose Acre’s owner, Marcus Rust, about the experience, which led both companies to wonder why it wouldn’t be possible to build a layer house using the housing equipment as the support structure. Summit took the challenge and ran with it, resulting in the Wrap-the-Equipment concept.

The first two prototype buildings were erected in Arizona in 2016. According to a Summit website documenting the experience, Rose Acre purchased land in Lone Cactus, Arizona, in 2014, and in June 2015, after months of engineering work, the concept began to come to life in the desert. When Ridgway and Culp spoke with WATT Global Media, six houses were under construction – including three in Pulaski County, Indiana, for Rose Acre. Ten houses were completed across three sites in Indiana and Arizona as part of Summit’s study of the concept, producing 1.1 billion eggs per year.

While the concept originated with Rose Acre, Summit is prepared to expand its Wrap-the-Equipment building style across the country and around the world. The international egg market is increasingly calling for cage-free eggs instead of conventionally, cage-produced eggs. This creates an opportunity, Ridgway said, for his company to provide great value and drive costs down with what he called a breakthrough in layer house construction. Summit said the Wrap-the-Equipment concept has the possibility to be extended to other poultry species, such as broilers, and other livestock, like dairy cattle.

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