Avoiding floor eggs in cage-free housing systems

17-06 | |
It is advised that nest box are comfortable, quiet and enclosed for the hen. Photo: Canva
It is advised that nest box are comfortable, quiet and enclosed for the hen. Photo: Canva

Floor eggs can be a major problem for laying and breeder hens in cage-free housing systems, with multifactorial causes and significant financial losses. A recent literature review compiled information on factors that can affect the propensity of hens to lay floor eggs and management strategies that might prevent this behaviour from developing.

Their review included studies on factors affecting nest box use, genetics, rearing and early training, production cycle, and new technologies being developed for floor egg laying detection and management.

The online information was boosted by interviews with 10 egg producers within Australia to understand current management practices within the industry.

The right strategies at the right time

The study found that floor eggs are manageable if the right strategies are implemented during the rearing period and when the birds first start laying their eggs. This is more challenging for egg producers that purchase point-of-lay birds and have limited control over rearing conditions.

Understanding the behaviour and needs of a particular hen strain or flock is important given the multiple factors that can influence floor egg laying development. But, they said, floor egg laying may still develop if all causative factors are unable to be addressed.

Conclusions and applications

The research highlighted 11 key issues:

  • The development of floor egg laying is multifactorial and can be affected by individual preferences as well as the hen strain. Therefore, specific strains of hens may be best suited to particular housing system designs.
  • The occurrence of the behaviour can vary across flocks in the same housing system. This means that a good understanding of bird behaviour is critical for optimal management of undesirable behaviour.
  • The rearing period is critical for training pullets to travel upwards. Perches, elevated tiers, or rearing like-to-like will improve pullets physical and behavioural development.
  • The pullets need time to learn the laying housing system before they come into lay. Transfer before 16 weeks may aid this.
  • The period following transfer is critical for ensuring the birds are learning to move up off the floor and into system to access the nest box.
  • Labour investment when the birds first start laying to keep them up off the floor will prevent floor egg laying from becoming established in the flock.
  • The nest box needs to be comfortable, quiet and enclosed for the hen.
  • Next box use can be affected by the individual hen preferences as well as social factors in the flock.
  • Placement of feeders and drinkers should not make nest access difficult nor encourage more hens onto the litter, particularly during the morning egg-laying period. Fed times should not coincide with oviposition times.
  • New technologies may assist with detecting and managing egg floor laying but good labour investment early on by knowledgeable staff can result in negligible floor egg percentages.
  • Preventing floor egg laying from developing is critical, as once the behaviour is established in a flock there is very little (or nothing) that can be done to change this. 

The study by Professor Dana Campbell has been published in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research and can be found here: Floor egg laying: can management investment prevent it?


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Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist
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