The Netherlands - "As breeders, we need to prepare the hens well for a good laying period. For this, the Bolegg Starter is a perfect rearing system in which we can train the hens well so that they use all levels,” says Carly de Bresser.
Together with her parents, Carly de Bresser keeps 45,000 organic rearing hens in two houses in Best, Brabant (NL). “We now have the third round of rearing hens. Training the hens is going well. We are gradually raising the winchable platforms to encourage the hens to use the different levels. The hens can get away well everywhere, including under the system,” says Carly.
From 2030, according to European regulations, in organic rearing living levels under which there is no manure belt cannot be counted as animal living space. “With the Bolegg Starter we can still keep 45,000 rearing hens,” Carly explains. Environmentally, an aviary, which includes the Bolegg Starter, is more interesting because of lower emissions. De Bresser now meets the Brabant requirements for emission reduction.
The Bolegg Starter is a row system with an internal winch platform, has two instead of three enclosures and an open space underneath the aviary. Through the internal platform, hens have more living space and learn to take height differences.
“Organic rearing hens have to go outside, so a traditional aviary standing on the ground was not possible. Our hens can go underneath the aviary to the covered run and then go outside”, Carly explains.
Carly: “My biggest fear was making it harder to train the hens in an aviary. But that is going well. You can start training from an early age”. When setting up, De Bresser starts with the chicks in the system, about 360 chicks per section. On two strips of chick paper, one on the platform which is then on the bottom, and one on the bottom behind the feed trough, comes starter feed. The platform, which covers half of the floor area, is then on the bottom of the aviary. After two weeks, training starts. “In one or two sections, we take out the paper and see how it goes; whether the chicks don’t get their heels stuck in the mesh or the platform for example. If that goes well, a second section follows and then we take out the paper on one side. If it goes well, the platform goes up. The chicks get more living space because they can go under the platform and learn to use the multiple levels,” tells Carly.
The most important thing, according to Carly, is to watch carefully how the chicks react and decide what to do then. For example, there are breed differences in leg size but also in learning behaviour. White hens learn faster than brown ones,” says Carly.
With the winchable integrated platform, hens are encouraged to use the whole system. Carly: "Feeding at different levels encourages the hens to jump into the system. We raise the plateaus in steps, usually once a week. When the hens use the whole system, we also teach the hens to drink water from the perch." Father Cor adds: "As a former layer farmer, I know how important it is that the chicks are well trained to perform optimally in the layer house."
We look at development and behaviour of the hens and adjust levels
Around the fourth week, in one department, they open the doors of the system, unfold the perches and attach the steps to the aviary so the hens can use the whole house. "Then, we see how it goes and if it goes well, the rest will follow."
The night before loading, they lock up the hens, fold in the perches, hang the steps on the system and slide the manure out of the aisle. In de Bresser's experience, getting the manure out from under the system is the biggest challenge. After manure removal, the cleaning crew sprays the aviary clean after which disinfecting follows and the house is ready for the next round.
Carly de Bresser: "It's just beautiful how those chicks and growing hens move through the Bolegg Starter. We enjoy that and it is a basis for good results at the layer farmer."