Jairus Lamwe collects eggs at Jay Farm in Kakamega from his 600 layers which he rears under the battery cage system. This system makes it easy to monitor laying percentage in your flock. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Broadly, there are different systems of rearing chicken namely free-range (extensive), semi-intensive, folding units and intensive systems.
To a large extent, chicken production especially at commercial level, heavily relies on intensive systems, with the common ones being battery cage and deep litter systems.
The choice of system to use is mainly dictated by available resources with deep litter undisputedly being the most widely used across the country.
In recent years, battery cage has been gaining popularity, making farmers choose between the two based on purpose and preference.
Briefly, battery cage system entails rearing birds in compartment units where floors are of standard strong galvanised wire (plastic also available) that slope from back to the front.
This allows eggs laid to roll out of the cage to a receiving gutter while food receptacles are outside the cage and water supplied with pipes bearing drinking nipples.
Deep litter, on the other hand, is a system where chickens are reared on floors made of concrete but covered with litters like saw dust or wood shavings to make birds feel comfortable.
Poultry equipment sets such as feeding and drinking troughs are then placed in convenient places inside the coop.
Land or free space is becoming a limiting factor and this is why free-range system of poultry rearing is near obsolete.
In urban areas, hardly can a poultry farmer spare open land for rearing chicken, therefore, going intensive proves the worth of keeping the birds in minimum spaces.
Further, deep litter requires drinkers and feeders as well as litter for floors which cost a lot, especially if one chooses automatic drinkers and feeders.
For instance, plastic tube feeders’ cost between Sh600 and Sh700 each, while automatic drinkers’ costs between Sh1,200-Sh1,400 each.
Of the two, battery cage is the most intensive system as greater number of birds are reared per unit area, but it needs more initial capital considering the cost of cages.
Nonetheless, this system requires higher maintenance costs as one has to deal with things like mechanical faults.
Feeding management in cages has to be carefully considered since many farmers mostly rely on mash or crumbs for production.
Compared to deep litter, it may come as a surprise to learn that built-up litter also supplies some food requirements for the birds as they obtain ‘animal protein factor’ from the trash.
Provided both systems are set up under proper ventilation, correct light-intensity, duration, temperature, vermin-proof houses and that feeds meet all nutritional needs, they have proven successful.
Samuel Kinyua, a farm manager at a poultry farmer in Nyeri adjusts an automatic water drinker for chicks. Under deep litter system, birds run and mingle freely thereby creating free social welfare. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Previous researches, however, hand battery cage system remarkable results, arguing that birds spend minimal energy and lessen the load of excess body heat.
In battery cage system, it is also easy to monitor egg laying performance of each bird making culling an easy exercise.
Under deep litter, it is much harder to monitor the birds since they move frequently, thus could turn costly especially for telephone farmers.
The process of identifying unproductive birds is also difficult under deep litter. Collection of eggs with dirty shells is eliminated in battery cage although tiny shelled eggs can easily crack.
Therefore, battery cage system provides the best opportunity for close supervision of individual birds so that capabilities and productiveness are monitored.
Good health is a prerequisite for a birds’ welfare. Under battery cage system, birds do not come in contact with their droppings hence there is less occurrence of parasitic diseases such as worms and coccidiosis hence lower mortality.
While in cages birds are not exposed to wetting floors or litters, a well-managed deep litter in dry condition with no wet spots around watering points has sterilising action.
It is therefore a requirement that litter is changed periodically as occasions demand to prevent infectious diseases building up including parasite infestations.
Chicken vices such as cannibalism, pecking and egg eating are common practices under deep litter system, translating to loss of revenue.
These are more controlled in battery cage system. It is easier to pick a hen from a cage for different purposes compared to catching birds under deep litter system.
Under battery system, hens are confined to a cage just large enough to permit very limited movement and allow them stand or sit comfortably.
As such, the birds’ social welfare is compromised since most cages usually accommodate one to three birds.
Further, battery cage is associated with higher incidences of leg problem, cage fatigue, fatty liver syndrome which is increased deposition of fat in the body.
The free movement is also of advantage as the floor litter maintains its own temperature, so birds burrow into it when atmospheric temperature is high, thereby cooling themselves.
According to previous researches, a flock of 35 laying birds can produce about a tonne of deep litter manure in a year.
For labour, cleaning out laying boxes, feeders and waterers regularly means quite a lot of work since they get ‘soiled’ by birds.
120 Chicken Layers Capacity
This extra labour is not as much compared to battery cage system, which goes a long way to save labour.
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