Due to attitude changes in Europe a few decades ago that have since spread to numerous countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and many others, consumer expectations regarding animal welfare in farming are everincreasing. What this means is that producers need to adapt, and change their production systems to alternative systems (floor housing, aviaries, free range, etc.).
In order to remain competitive and respond to such market changes, a layer breeding company must anticipate and tailor its selection programme as best possible.
For over 10 years now, NOVOGEN has demonstrated its expertise in this area by developing unique and innovative breeding program, including, among others, complementary farming systems, collective cages, and floor systems that make it possible to select animals in environments resembling the production systems seen around the world. These also allow for selection based on behavioural criteria, alongside traditional production and egg quality criteria.
Focus on Floor Selection System
This wholly innovative selection system allows us to measure new criteria. While within the floor housing and in groups, the hens are individually monitored using electronic identification. It is therefore possible to record a diverse set of information on a daily basis, including nest laying rate, laying time, time spent in the nest, the interval between two egg-layings, number of nests visited, etc.
One of the primary objectives is obviously to optimise egg laying in the nest. While this is highly dependent on both environment and management, there are genetic variations dictating hen behaviour regarding nests. This floor selection technique therefore contributes to improving production performance and facilitating flock management in alternative systems.
Analysis of hen behaviour in alternative production systems:
- Individual identification of laying profiles:
Varied egg laying profiles are identifiable. Some hens lay regularly—at the same time every day—while other hens tend to change their laying times, or even take a break from laying. After this break and at the start of each new cycle, a hen will usually lay the first egg of a clutch at a similar time— but remaining defined by its own potential.
- Time spent in nest:
This criterion also varies a lot, as it has never been specifically selected before. While some hens only spend a few minutes per day in their nest, others can stay there for over 90 minutes. Nest use is optimised by short attendance times.
- Nest exploration capacity:
It is also possible to assess hens’ capacities for exploratory behaviour using this new system. While some hens only visit a few nests during the entire period, others are more curious and visit many nests.
- Criteria correlation:
It is also interesting to measure correlations between certain criteria. Hens’ exploratory capacities have a positive impact on nest laying intensity. Selection based on this criterion therefore allows for an improvement in technical and economic results, while also providing the farmer with improved working comfort.
How the floor selection system contributes to other production systems
Criteria measured in floor systems are also related to production and egg quality criteria. They allow for improved performance throughout all types of production systems.
For example, the average laying time during the cycle and the frequency of laying clutches impact egg quality criteria such as shell strength. The amount of time spent in the nest may also be closely related to other egg quality criteria.
This innovative floor selection system opens up new avenues for genetic improvement thanks to in-depth knowledge of theanimals’ laying behaviour.
In order to provide strains that suit customer expectations, innovation remains a core focus of NOVOGEN’s R&D strategy. The results obtained by NOVOGEN breeds in field conditions in all types of production systems wholly justify these strategic decisions and make NOVOGEN a benchmark in laying hen selection.
“Floor system selection brings us complementary information on birds behavior in an environment close to field conditions. Due to the moderate to strong relationship between these floor housing behaviours and egg quality, this system makes it possible to meet producer expectations both in alternative and conventional systems.”
Thierry Burlot, R&D Director NOVOGEN