Pullet rearing with Natura Filia: A British farm manager takes stock
With the EU-wide ban on poultry cages imminent, the Heal family took a major decision in 2006: They opted to purchase an aviary for laying hens – the very first multi-tier free range unit on English soil. The Natura aviary system proved its worth and the eggs sold well, so the farmers did not stop with a single house: Today, 160,000 bird places at Heal Farms are equipped with Big Dutchman aviaries.
An order placed about two years ago was quite out of the ordinary, however: Heal Farms asked for an aviary for pullet rearing, which was installed at the end of 2014 for testing. Farm manager Gordon Alexander is very happy: “There are a lot of benefits,” he explained in an interview with the trade magazine Ranger (July 2016).
Rearing aviaries such as the Big Dutchman Natura Filia that prepare the pullets for a smooth transition to the laying aviary are very uncommon in Great Britain today. This is because they are still awaiting certification, for example with a seal of approval similar to the German “KAT standard” by the Association for Controlled Alternative Animal Husbandry in Germany.
In the UK, approval by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is essential for free-range egg production. Egg producers who meet the welfare standards of the RSPCA may label their products with the renowned “RSPCA Assured” logo (formerly Freedom Foods).
The Heal Farms poultry houses are certified by the RSPCA. The only exception: the rearing unit, which operates under a derogation. RSPCA specialists have been communicating with the producers and inspect both the house and the birds regularly since installation of the rearing aviary. Their goal is to determine whether Natura Filia meets the requirements that have been set for pullet rearing by this oldest and largest animal welfare organisation of the world.
Pullet rearing with Natura Filia: Benefits for the birds and the purse
Gordon Alexander has no doubts that the extensive training helps the pullets. Looking back on the past 18 months, the poultry expert says that pullets reared on the system are less stressed on transfer to multi-tier production units, they suffer less keel bone damage and maintain feathering better. The layers also range better and express dust bathing characteristics earlier.
It’s not just the birds that benefit from the system, there are also economic advantages. “For production, we would say it’s very much four or five eggs benefit to the hen,” reports Gordon, and adds, “The number of floor eggs in lay is dramatically reduced.”
Natura product family
The first Natura aviary was launched in 1986. Big Dutchman has increased the aviary product range continuously since then. The German poultry equipment supplier can offer more than 20 system types today: an entire product family with various branches that combines animal welfare with profitability. The systems are used both for barn and free-range egg production. About 52 million bird places have been equipped with Natura systems over the years, first in Europe and later also in the US.
Natura Filia is one of the youngest family members. The aviary consists of two levels and meets the requirements of day-old chicks and pullets in an optimal way. The birds can easily reach feed and water on both levels. Chick bridges and ramps help the birds to move from one level to the other and to reach the littered area.
Successful aviary systems
Whether Big Dutchman supplied a rearing or a laying system: Right from the start, the poultry equipment supplier understood that the correct overall concept is the key for animal-friendly and economically viable aviary systems. Dividing the Natura aviaries into zones for different activities (feed, water, nest) and combining ventilation, lighting and management in the right manner are essential factors for practical success.
Consequently, Big Dutchman has developed concepts for virtually any situation over the years, based on the feedback from its customers. Whether the barn is new or old, whether the manager selects organic, barn egg or free-range egg production – Big Dutchman can guarantee a flexible solution with high welfare and better utilisation of the building.