New Aviary System Installed at Poultry Center

The Department of Animal Science recently completed installation of a stepped aviary system at the Poultry Teaching and Research Center.

New aviary
New stepped aviary system at the Poultry Teaching and Research Center.

Michigan State University now has one of a handful of poultry facilities in the US that is capable of supporting research with a new aviary system. The Department of Animal Science recently completed installation of a stepped aviary system at the Poultry Teaching and Research Center (TRC). The change is in response to transformations in the laying industry in Michigan as it moves toward housing alternatives to conventional cages.

The new aviary will give animal science students exposure to one of the modern housing options they may find in a commercial setting. Researchers will be able to continue their studies on hen production and welfare in similar systems as industry. The aviary system also will benefit outreach with Michigan producers who use or are transitioning to such systems.

The aviary system was installed as a replacement for an enriched colony housing system. When the laying hen facility was first constructed at MSU, enriched colony cages were considered the predominant housing system of the future in the US. Enriched colony cages, though, have quickly become obsolete. The new aviary system is comparable with housing systems that are currently used by cage-free table egg producers. Because of consumer animal welfare concerns and the Michigan egg-housing law, major egg purchasers that have pledged to produce all cage-free eggs by 2025.   

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Old enriched colony housing system.

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Dismantling of old enriched colony housing system.

Four rooms at the Poultry TRC were retrofitted with the Big Dutchman Natura Step™ stepped aviary system. At full capacity, assuming birds are allowed access under the cage system, Poultry TRC manager Angelo Napolitano noted that each room can house 916 hens.

The project was made possible through support from the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension.

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Installation of new stepped aviary system.

According to the company’s literature, the system “is focused on the welfare of the birds, without disregarding functionality and efficiency” and is designed so hens “can exhibit their natural behaviors and where they stay healthy and can lay their eggs under hygienic conditions”. The system includes levels for resting, nesting, feeding, and scratching, as well as belts for manure drops and egg collection.

Dr. Zac Williams, poultry extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science, noted “The long-term plan is to use the facility for research that will develop new management techniques and programs for raising laying hens in an aviary housing system.”

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New stepped aviary system.

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Stepped aviary system.

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Stepped aviary system egg belt detail.


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