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Cage Systems for Breeders

Hy-Line breeders can be raised and produced in breeder cages with success. Cage systems have been specifically designed for use with breeders, and these should be used. Advantages of keeping breeders in cages are:

  • cleaner hatching eggs
  • better control of enteric diseases (e.g., coccidiosis, infectious bursal disease, internal parasites, salmonellosis)
  • more settable eggs
  • better feed efficiency
  • more efficient use of the breeder house space
  • lower labor costs

The main disadvantages are lower fertility and higher capital investments in facilities.

Growing period
The principles for raising breeder pullets in cages are similar to those of commercial pullets. To avoid leg problems, the growing cage should be constructed with wire at least 2 mm (0.08 in) in diameter with spacing between wires to provide a maximum cell size of 18 × 18 mm (0.71 × 0.71 in). The floor in the cages should not be slippery or sloped. The height of the cage should be a minimum of 40 cm (15.7 in). If too low, the roosters can experience problems with legs and pressure sores on the keel bone. The cages should be equipped with perches to facilitate leg development.

Males and females should be grown together to allow socialization. This can help avoid mating problems that can occur as adults. Ideally, the males and females should be co-mingled by 4 weeks of age.

Growing breeders in cages and then transferring them to a floor production system is not advisable. Breeders handled in this way can experience behavior problems (e.g., displaced pecking behavior) as adults.

The Hy-Line W-36 male can be smaller and less developed than the female. Special supportive care of the males include:

  • higher brooding temperatures
  • reduced bird densities
  • vitamin and electrolytes in the drinking water
  • enriched feed

Laying period
The flock can be moved into the laying facility at 15 to 16 weeks of age or after administration of the last live vaccinations. Hy-Line W-36, Brown, and Sonia males may be moved a few days earlier to the laying house to give them more time to acclimate to their new environment before arrival of the females. This is not recommended for the Hy-Line CV-22 and Silver Brown males, however. It is important that growing and production breeder cages be compatible in feeder, drinker, and lighting systems.

Supportive care to reduce stress—such as water-soluble vitamins, probiotics, and vitamin C (ascorbic acid)—should be used 3 days before and 3 days after the transfer. Flocks transferred early should be moved into the laying house with the same light hours and light intensity as those used in the growing house.

During the transfer of males, a selection for the best individuals should be made. All roosters entering the laying house should be in good body condition, well-feathered, with good feet and legs, and free of physical defects. Keep extra males in reserve cages to use later. Any sex slips should be removed at transfer.

A breeder cage designed for colony sizes of greater than 100 birds will usually have better fertility than those with smaller colony size. Smaller breeder cages with only 1 or 2 roosters are subject to accelerated fertility loss as the flock ages.

Breeder laying cages should provide 700 cm2 (109 in2) of floor space per bird. The height of the laying cage must be at least 60 cm (23.6 in) to avoid the roosters from hitting their heads on top of the cage. Roosters striking their heads on top of the cage will be reluctant to mate. Roosters in cage systems can be dubbed to avoid being caught in cage wires. The cages should be equipped with perches.

Mating ratios
Male to female ratio depends on the type of breeder cage and the size of the cage colony, but as a rule they should follow those ratios used on the floor.

Lighting program
The same lighting program used for floor breeders should be used in caged breeder flocks.


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