Alternative egg production for French industry
Eggs and egg products in the alternative segment are in high demand in France. "More and more food products are marketed with an emphasis on their barn egg or free range egg ingredients," says poultry farmer Regina Minier. She decided to produce barn eggs for the egg industry with an option to move to free range. "At this moment in time I chose for the aviary system, because that is easier to manage, but the barn has a multifunctional design."
The family made a living from dairy farming for decades. Seeing demand for eggs growing and after a good discussion with the local farmers' co-operation, a new barn was commissioned with about 30,000 hens. "We placed our first flock in 2010 and are now 65 weeks into our third flock," says novice poultry farmer Mrs. Minier.
Co-op at the helm
When it comes to the supply of eggs, the farmers' co-operation is at the helm; with long term planning and assisting with building new houses and more directly in giving mandatory guidelines how long a flock is kept in production. "Our current flock will be kept until 85 weeks, by choice of the co-operation." That said, the way production is organised isn't fully integrated, on the contrary. "We have a lot of room for implementing our own decisions. We own the building, we decide what brand of hen we want and pursue our own management strategies." The co-operation is the trusted partner when it comes to feed and also when it comes to contacts for selling the end product. Minier: "The co-op has the contact with the egg processors, but in the end we as farmers have the contract, so there is some freedom of movement."
One of those choices was the switch to NOVOgen WHITE hens in 2013. Regina Minier: "After two flocks with another breed, we wanted to experience what else was in the market and to get to know what hen suits us best."
Regina Minier is a woman, focused on details. She keeps extensive records on all facets, making it possible to track performance against the expected values by the breeding company and gives the opportunity to compare one flock to the other. "To give the flock a good start I demanded from the hen rearing farm to follow a special lighting programme. Instead of a standard 12 hours at 17 weeks, I asked for only 11 hours of light in rearing at 18 weeks. Upping the light regime to 15 hours after placement in the production house I was able to keep the number of small eggs and floor eggs to a minimum and hope for better persistency later on. That makes the life of the farmer easier." Mrs. Minier continues: "In the end it is all about the numbers of course." At 65 weeks of age the current flock is still performing well. "We have a laying rate of 90% and an average egg weight of 64.5 grams. By adapting the speed of the conveyors and prevent shocks, we are able to keep a low level of breakages."
By controlling and weighing faeces and feed distribution Mrs. Minier finds that she can win 1 or 2 grams of feed intake a day. "The NOVOGEN hens are calm and don't waste much energy. They are really easy to manage."
Eggs for industry
With more than 70% of all layers in France housed in enriched cages it would be logical that Mrs. Minier would produce barn eggs for the table egg market and leave the normally less lucrative industry eggs to the cheapest production method. "Fortunately many food manufactures want to promote their products as being produced with more welfare friendly egg products. The huge demand for alternative eggs for the industry made me choose for industry production." Recently she signed a new contract with the egg processor. "In exchange for a better price we agreed upon checking the eggs for cracks ourselves. We fabricated a lighting unit to be able to detect faulty eggs."
Article extracted from WORLD POULTRY Volume 31, No5, 2015