Should You Choose Deep litter or Cage System for Poultry Farming?
The type of rearing system to use in poultry farming is mainly dictated by available resources and the farmer’s preference.
In Kenya, deep litter system is undisputedly the most widely used system across the country, although battery cage system has been gaining popularity in the recent years, making new poultry farmers especially those looking to keep layers to be torn on which system to invest in.
This article aims to give insights on how the two systems compare, to further inform your choice on which system works best for you.
Battery cage system entails rearing birds in compartment units made of standard strong galvanized wire (plastic are also available) that slope from back to the front. This allows the eggs laid to roll out of the cage to a receiving gutter while food receptacles are outside the cage and water is supplied with pipes bearing drinking nipples.
Deep litter, on the other hand, is a system where chickens are reared on concrete floors covered with litters like saw dust or wood shavings to make birds feel more comfortable. Equipment such as feeders and drinking troughs are placed in convenient places inside the coop.
Initial capital investment
In both systems, construction of poultry houses is required and the good thing is that either can be applied in minimal space especially now that land is becoming a limiting factor.
Of the two systems, battery cage is the most intensive system as greater number of birds can be reared per unit area, although the initial capital is higher considering the cost of purchasing cages and the system requires higher maintenance costs due to mechanical faults.
Aside from the cost of constructing the housing, deep litter requires additional cost for getting litter for floors as well as drinkers and feeders which could cost a lot more if one chooses the automatic ones. Plastic tube feeders cost between Ksh.600 and Ksh.700 each, while automatic drinkers cost between Ksh. 1,200 and Ksh. 1,400 each.
Management and yield performance
Both systems have proven to be successful provided they are set up under proper ventilation, correct light-intensity, temperature, vermin-proof houses and the feeds meet all nutritional needs.
Feed management in cages is regarded to be more efficient since a farmer can regulate the amount of feeds being fed to the chicken and there is less spillage and wastage compared to deep litter system. On the flip side, it may come as a surprise to learn that built-up litter supplies some food requirements for the birds as they obtain an ‘animal protein factor’.
In terms of yield, various researches have pointed out battery cage system to have remarkable results, arguing that birds spend minimal energy and lessen the load of excess body heat. This energy is instead directed towards egg production.
In battery cage system, it is easy to monitor capability and productiveness of each bird, making culling an easy exercise. On the other hand, it is much harder to monitor the birds in deep litter since they move frequently, thus making it hard to determine the laying percentage of your flock. The process of identifying unproductive birds is also difficult under deep litter.
Vices, Disease and parasites
Whatever the system you choose, preventing or managing diseases should be a key prerequisite.
In a battery cage system, birds do not come into contact with their droppings, wet floors or litters hence there is less occurrence of parasitic diseases such as worms and coccidiosis hence lowering the mortality rate.
A well-managed deep litter can do equally as well as a cage system but if in anyway there is a disease outbreak, it spreads faster in this system. It is therefore required that litter is changed periodically as occasions demand to prevent infectious diseases building up including parasite infestations.
Poultry vices such as cannibalism, pecking and egg eating are common practices under deep litter system, which could result in loss of revenue. These vices are more controlled in battery cage 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. In fact, some countries term raising birds under battery cage ‘imprisoning the birds’. Further, battery cage is associated with higher incidences of leg problem, cage fatigue and fatty liver syndrome which is increased deposition of fat in the body.
Under deep litter, birds can run and mingle freely thereby creating free social welfare. The free movement is also of advantage as the floor litter maintains its own temperature, hence birds can burrow into it when atmospheric temperature is high, thereby cooling themselves. Conversely, they can warm themselves in the same way when the weather is very cool.
In deep litter, there is need to regularly clean the laying boxes, feeders and drinkers since they get ‘soiled’ by the birds. This extra labour is not realized in battery cage system, which goes a long way to save labour.
Getting guano manure (a highly effective fertilizer due to its exceptionally high content of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium) is a valuable economic factor with deep litter system. It is however, easier to evacuate waste in the battery cage system compared to the deep litter.