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Blog posts of '2016' 'November'

Georgia FFA project support by local industry

When a local FFA chapter asked for industry support, Georgia Poultry's Heath Whiddon jumped at the chance. Heath explained, " My involvement in FFA throughout my middle school and high school year shaped my career path in animal agricultural. After graduating from UGA, I worked for Perdue Farms before joining Georgia Poultry as outside sales rep."

Heath and kids examine 4-hole nest used in chapter project Heath and kids examine 4-hole nest used in chapter project

Clifton Ridge Middle School in Macon, GA recently started an FFA chapter and chose as their SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) a project involving laying hens. Local Perdue Farms Director of Operations, Wally Hunter and live production manager, Tim Little alerted Heath about the project and joined with Georgia Poultry in supplying the school with a 4-hole and 10-hole nest.

FFA advisor, Rick Burrell looks on as Heath highlights nest features. FFA advisor, Rick Burrell looks on as Heath highlights nest features.  

Heath bought the nests to Clifton Ridge and met with the students and FFA advisor, Rick Burrell. " I assembled the 4-hole to show the kids so they could build the 10-hole unit on their own, "said Heath. " I took a few minutes and explained how vertical integration worked and answered the questions from the kids. They were especially interested in how my FFA involvement helped my career in the poultry industry.... and they also wanted to know what farmers did with the chicken litter." Heath continued, "Getting kids involved is critical to the future of our industry. I was glad for the opportunity to help out, and hopefully, we see some of the kids enter the poultry business down the road."

Clifton Ridge hens adapt to new nests Clifton Ridge hens adapt to new nests  

The project currently involves 12 laying hens of different breeds with the students offering eggs for sale to the school faculty and district personnel.

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Midwest Deep Pit Layer House

When Larry Nightingale constructed a 50' x 500' building to produce cage-free eggs on his 700-acre farm in Pulaski, IA, utilizing the manure from the 20,000 laying hens was an important consideration. "A deep pit has less moving parts than a scraper system and having 12 months of storage allows us to apply all the manure in the fall after the crops are out," explained Larry.

Access door to manure pit Access door to manure pit

  The eight-foot-deep pit under the building consists of a steel reinforced concrete floor with eight-inch formed perimeter walls. Two openings, with slider doors, permit access on each side to remove the litter from the pit with a skid loader. Cross section with plastic flooring and nests suspended above pit Cross section with plastic flooring and nests suspended above pit

The nests and flooring are suspended above the pit with a support system constructed from 8-inch "I" beams spaced on ten-foot centers. The "I" beam framework sets in pockets in the pit walls and is supported in the center by steel posts.

Potter's colony nests Potter's colony nests

 A double row of single-tier Potter's colony nests runs down the middle of the building. Curtain fronts on the nest provide the hens with a secure, dark laying area with AstroTurf® covered floors sloping to the center collection belt.   The nest floors rise to exclude the birds from the nest during the night.

GrowerSELECT chain feeder with additional roost bars GrowerSELECT chain feeder with additional roost bars located on plastic flooring.

18’ of raised plastic slatted flooring extends on each side of the nest boxes with the chain feeding and water lines located there.

deep_5   Unique triangle supports used on the GrowerSELECT chain feeding trough provide additional roosts for the hens.

Precast concrete scratch areaPrecast concrete scratch area  

One noteworthy design feature is the pre-cast concrete used for the scratch areas located along the outside walls. 4' x 10' solid concrete slabs were placed on the support beams roughly four inches lower than the plastic slats. Manually operated access doors located above the scratch area permit the birds to access outside pasture runs.

Fans and curtains used in natural/ power ventilation system Windstorm galvanized fans with sidewall curtains used in the natural/ power ventilation system

The natural/ power assist ventilation system provides the birds with a comfortable year-round environment.   Three 52" Windstorm pit fans cycle on timers during the winter drawing air through ceiling inlets. As the temperature increases, the sidewall curtains start to drop to allow natural airflow to cool the interior. At approximately 80 degrees the system switches to tunnel ventilation with the sidewall curtains closing and end tunnel curtains opening as the ten Windstorm 54" end wall fans stage on.   Although deep pit structure may have a higher initial cost, there are several advantages for integrated farming operations. 12 months of storage allows fall application for maximum crop utilization. As Larry pointed out, a deep pit is virtually maintenance free with no moving parts compared to using a scraper or belt system to remove the manure from under the slatted area to a separate storage pit.

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2nd Generation Stanchions


The pen gestation continues to evolve as producers gain "real world" experience managing production systems.

In 2012 Prestage Farms remodeled an existing finishing complex into breeding and farrowing units and installed stanchions in the pen gestation. You can read more about the remodel project here.   Production Manager, Russ Goss, explained some of the changes made in new sow units built this year,   "In the new facilities, we increased the square footage from 19.5 to 23 per sow, and the stanchion width changed from 19" to 24" on center. In addition, the rodded stanchion dividers were increased from 18” to 48”.

"Extending the dividers changed the behavior of the dominant sows in a pen. Shorter dividers enabled the boss sow to disturb the other animals, and you would see some of them repositioning during the feeding period. The 48" divider prevents the aggressive animals from reaching the shoulders of their pen mates. Instead of going down the line and disrupting other animals, they quickly figure out they can't move anybody and just return to their spot."

"The other thing we see is at any one time 50% of the animals in a pen will be lying in the stanchions.   They never laid in the shorter stanchions, but would always be lying around the "donut" in the middle with their backs against the pen perimeter gating.   A sow always wants to lay with her back against something. She feels secure in the longer stanchions and she appears comfortable staying there, but is also free to leave and move around the pen."   Russ continued, “We have noticed that after the initial fighting to establish the pecking order in the pen, the sows are noticeably calmer and quieter compared to our stall barns.”

"Using pen gestation with stanchions fits our system and personnel. The ESF systems are really an intriguing concept... being able to feed and track sows individually in loose housing. Maybe it's our genetics, but I don't think it's that important for us to feed a sow individually all the way through gestation. From our experience, we can effectively condition the sow the first 6 weeks in gestation. However, if we do not have all sows in the ideal condition, we will group them together and set all feeders in the pen accordingly.

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SowMAX Key to Increasing Feed Consumption


A move to 21-day weaning along with an increasing born live, sent Great Lake Pork, headquartered in Allendale, Michigan in search of the best method for ad-lib feeding in farrowing. 

"Improved sow genetics resulted in more pigs farrowed plus we wanted to boost pig weights by weaning later. We needed to push more feed to the sows and increase consumption," commented Great Lakes Pork, partner Joel Phelps.  

After trialing several different feeder and water combinations, Great Lake Pork settled on a Hog Slat's SowMAX with a floor mounted cup waterer.   "We feel the stainless steel SowMAX dispensers are more durable and easier to install on the different feed bowls in our system. The sow activated trigger mechanism is more reliable than models incorporating plastic balls or electronic timers, " said Joel.  

"We have barns where the ad-lib hoppers are hand-filled and those with automated delivery systems; the results are the same, one just requires a little more labor. We fill the feeder starting on day one and let the sow have all the feed she wants.   That's the beauty of ad-lib, there's no guessing like with hand-feeding, sows eat as individuals when they are ready."  

"Although we don't weigh individual litters, we know the sows are milking well, and they are doing it without losing body weight. They are coming out of the farrowing houses in very good condition which helps in the breeding barn."  

Joel finished by saying; “ As soon as we finished the trial and decided on the equipment we made the switch across the entire system, 18 sow farms in all. That was over three years ago and we’ve never regretted it. It has been a good decision for us.”

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Missouri Cage-Free Egg Production

potters-nest_1400px Potter's colony nests

A group of Missouri farmers is developing production systems needed to meet the growing demand for cage-free eggs. The producers contract with local egg companies to provide facilities that meet established humane standards for egg production. Unlike typical industry contracts, the farmers are also responsible for purchasing the birds and feed along with supplying labor.

Side doors allow chicken access to outdoor pasture Side doors allow chicken access to outdoor pasture

Farms produce either free-range or pastured eggs. Free-range hens have access to exterior areas equal to 2 sq. ft. per bird, while the pastured designation requires 108.9 sq. ft. per hen.   The farms receive 17-week old pullets that begin laying at 19 weeks with full production reached at around 24 weeks.

Center egg gathering belt with AstroTurf pad
Center egg gathering belt with AstroTurf pad

The 50’ wide buildings feature a double row of colony nests down the center of the room, allowing nine sq. ft. of nest area per 100 hens.   Curtain fronts on the nest provide the hens with a secure, dark laying area with AstroTurf® covered floors sloping to the center collection belt.

Raised flooring with either pan feeders or chain feeding Raised flooring with either pan feeders or chain feeding

12’ of raised plastic slatted flooring extends on each side of the nest boxes with the feed and water lines located there. A 9-1/2' lowered scratch area runs along each sidewall.

Windstorm 54" fans and 36" stir fans Windstorm 36" panel  fans and 54" exhaust  fans

The ventilation system is a combination power/ natural design with a 36” fan and ceiling inlets providing minimum air requirements. Two 52” fans stage on as the weather warms with the sidewall curtains dropping to supply the increased airflow. Hot weather triggers high-pressure misters on with 36” box fans increasing air circulation. Some of the larger facilities also add evaporative cooling systems with tunnel ventilation fans for extremely hot weather and eliminate the sidewall curtains, misters, and 36" stir fans.

Inside scratch area with portable shades outside. Automated access doors to outside runs with portable shades outside.

Hens are locked out of the nests overnight until 5:30 am. Egg collect begins at 9 am with the sliding side doors opened at 10 am to allow the hens access to the outside runs. Chickens can move freely in and out of the buildings during the day choosing their environment. In the outside lots, the hens have access to portable shades along with supplemental feed and water.

Manual egg packer and automatic version shown Manual egg packer and automatic version

A second egg collection occurs mid-afternoon. Smaller facilities hand pack the eggs from the center collection belt while larger operations utilize an automated packing machine. Walk-in egg coolers capable of maintaining 45-degree temperatures hold the eggs until the farm’s weekly pickup. The building’s side doors remain open until after dark with the interior lights left on to draw the hens in before closing up for the night. Approximately ½ hour before shutting down the building lights, the nest floors lift up gently pushing the hens out of the colony nest and blocking access until the next morning.

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