Laying Hen Housing Study Reveals Tradeoffs

As egg producers search for ways to comply with California’s new rules on space for laying hens requiring that a laying hen be able to stretch her wings fully, a new study of different types of housing reveal the tradeoffs.

Temple Grandin, professor of agricultural economics at Colorado State University, reviewed the results of the study, which were presented at the Midwest Poultry Conference in Minneapolis.

The study is significant in that more states are liable to pass laws regulating how chickens must be housed.  It showed problems associated with each of three systems of producing eggs:  1) conventional battery cages, 2) colony housing and 3) aviary cage free.  In a colony system, the hens are still in cages, but are provided with amenities like more space than conventional battery cages, a secluded nest box, perches and a pad to scratch on.




Grandin said there were advantages and disadvantages to each system.  For instance, the aviary cage free system had the highest ammonia, dust levels, dirty egg shells and death losses, yet was the best on the condition of hen’s bones and the prevention of the loss of feathers.

Egg shell cleanliness, death loss and air quality were similar in conventional cages and colony housing, the report said.

But despite those problems, the market for shell eggs may move toward more cage-free production.  Liquid egg producers may move to colony housing.

Liquid egg production accounts for about half of all egg production in the US.  These eggs are ingredients in baked goods and other products.

And since the industry is constantly innovating, some of the problems associated with cage-free housing may be conquered, she said.  One of the reasons for the increased number of dirty eggs, for instance, is that a higher percentage of the hens laying eggs on the floor.  She was confident the higher ammonia levels could be addressed as well.




As more rain drops on the Midwest, drenching soils and creating unplantable or unproductive ponds in fields, more analysts are looking for analog years and finding 1993 is a reasonable comparison year.

That was the year in which soggy fields produced only 100.7 bushels an acre, 23% below 1992, while soybean yields dropped 13.3% to 32.6 bushels.

Wheat states, like Kansas, noted an increase in diseases linked to higher-moisture conditions.  Substantial portions of fields were lost altogether, and there were declines in the quality of the wheat harvested.

Thursday’s jump in grain futures, and the resultant pressure on feeder cattle, was linked to continual rain and declines in crop conditions.  Investors wanted to move to the sidelines ahead of Tuesday’s USDA Grain Stocks and Acreage reports, and the action triggered fund short covering.

Not everyone is convinced 1993 is a good comparison year, but there enough that do for markets to remain volatile until after Tuesday’s reports and before the Independence Day holiday that follows.




Cash cattle markets were active Thursday as futures prices dropped.  The lower board allowed sellers to cover hedges at a more profitable point.

Cattle traded at mostly $148 per cwt on a live basis, steady to $2 lower than last week.  In Nebraska’s dressed market, cattle traded at $237 to $240, down $1 to $2.

Wholesale beef prices were down Thursday, with the USDA reporting its choice cutout value at $255.16 per cwt, down $0.96, and its select cutout at $250.13, off $0.26.  Volume was light with 65 loads of fabricated product moving into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday was $231.30 per cwt, up $3.42, compared with Thursday’s Aug settlement of $219.05, down $4.50.