Multi-tier system helps maintain free-range feather cover

While multi-tier layer systems offer many benefits over traditional floor systems including better feathering and more efficient use of buildings, they also require more management.

Free-range egg producer Jason Cooper told delegates at the recent British Free Range Producers Association Conference near Coventry how he opted for a multi-tier system when establishing his 12,500-bird flock in Norfolk.

“I was originally looking at two 4000-bird mobile sheds, but the equipment rep highlighted that I could get 6000 in each shed with a multi-tier system, thereby reducing the building’s footprint.

“I went to look at other units and the birds looked happy and I saw some excellent performance figures.

Now on his second flock in the system, he offered his tips gained with his first flocks. His first tip was to secure birds that have been trained to use the different tiers.

“It is essential to ensure that you can get multi-tier reared birds. And have drinkers positioned above birds to encourage them on to the different tiers.

“When your pullets arrive, take your time when unloading to give them time to migrate to all the levels in the sheds.”

Getting birds well distributed is crucial, but he admitted that with their first flock they walked the birds too much and saw some smothering in nest boxes as birds bunched up against the partitions.

He also warned about variation between tiers when monitoring body weight in a flock. “You can see clear differences between tiers, so care is needed in selecting birds for weighing, so that you get an accurate indication of weight gain.

Checking birds can be quite a job as you have to inspect all the different levels and underneath.

“It can take about 50% more time to inspect the flock than with a floor system. The best time for checking underneath for floor eggs and any mortalities is when the feeders are running, as this encourages birds to come out.

Litter management is also key. If litter gets too deep, you can get “pot holing” where depressions form as birds dust bathe and other birds then lay floor eggs in them. The worst time is at 45-50 weeks when you get “lazy bird syndrome.”

Lighting is a useful tool for encouraging an even distribution of birds and you need to position them within the system so birds can find drinkers and feeders. Lights underneath can help discourage floor eggs.

“Overall, at 16-24 weeks labour requirements are higher, but once you get beyond this period, it gets much easier.”

Looking at the benefits, he believes it has led to better feather retention as birds are busier and, therefore, not falling for vices such as feather pecking. Mortality is also lower and there are fewer flies as the manure is continually taken out on belts.

Feed intakes are about lower 7-10g and with a shorter distance from middle of building to the pop holes, he believes it encourages birds out on the range.

He is so pleased with the system that he is planning to expand to 24,000 birds by September 2010.

Mr Cooper believes there is a place in the market for both systems [floor and multi-tier], but doesn’t see it as the value end as some in the industry do.

“Why should it be the value end? Birds do just as well and are just as happy.”

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