Poultry farming: Battery Cages vs Deep Litter System


Poultry farmers will have to soon end battery cage farming and go for cage free egg farming.

In battery cage system, hens used for the production of eggs are reared in small wire cages called battery cages, a name given due to the arrangement of cages placed side by side. The battery cages are so small that the birds are unable to stand up or spread wings without touching the sides of the cage or other hens or circle without impediment.

The floor space available to each hen in battery cage system is approximately 623.7 cm2, that is almost the area of a sheet of A4 paper and a typical layer egg farm contains thousands of cages with thousands of birds, stacked many tiers high.

Battery cage method of rearing hens leads to sore feet, abrasions, broken bones and other injuries to the birds. It also increases the risk of the birds contracting contagious diseases necessitating the administration of drugs.

Although it will be quite uneconomical and tough to raise layer poultry meant for commercial egg production under deep litter system. So people have started looking the alternative option of battery cages for layer farming.



Poultry is the most organized sector in animal production system. The growth is 6-8% in layers and 10-12% in broilers per year against the growth of agriculture as a whole which is around 2.5%. Within a span of 25 years, the egg production has gone up to 70 billion from few millions and the broiler production has gone to 3.8 million ton from nowhere. India is the third-largest egg producer after China and USA and the fourth-largest chicken producer after China, Brazil and USA. The per capita eggs consumption has gone up from 30 to 68 and the chicken from 400 gm to 2.5 kg. To obtain maximum egg and meat production, management in the poultry house is very essential. One of the managemental practices is the proper maintenance of poultry litter commonly named as deep litter system of management. The litter material is used in a poultry farm to give more comfort to the birds for best profitable outcomes. The quality of litter material significantly influences the overall performances of the broilers as well as the chickens. A good litter serves as an insulator to maintain uniform temperature round the year and also acts as a blotter through absorbing the extra moisture of the feces & urine by increasing surface area of the floor which prevents fungal contamination. The quality of litter significantly influences the overall performance and ultimately the profit. Litter plays a vital role in absorbing the fecal moisture, promotes drying by increasing surface area of the house floor, insulates chick from cooling effects of the ground and provide a protected cushion. Litter material helps to conserve heat by insulation and provide supplemental heat through fermentation by feacal microorganisms. It receives droppings and absorbs moisture from faeces and respiratory processes. It provides a warm, soft and spongy surface for optimum comfort of the birds

Types of Cage-Free Systems:

There are numerous alternatives to battery cages, so producers can select the system that works best for them and the birds. The various systems can be grouped into three basic categories:

deep-litter, aviary, and free-range.

Deep Litter Systems

These single level barn/shed systems are constructed similarly to the housing traditionally used for broiler chickens in Western agriculture. The floor area is solid with a litter of straw, wood shavings, sand, or turf. Deep-litter systems for laying hens also provide nest boxes, and communal water and feeding troughs are placed throughout the facility. Manure and litter should be removed as often as possible. In order to prevent ammonia build-up, litter depth should be kept to a minimum to facilitate drying of the litter to ensure it is friable. Encouraging the hens’ scratching and foraging behavior helps dry the litter also.

In this system the birds are kept inside the house all the time. Arrangement for feed, water and nest are made inside the house. The birds are kept on suitable litter material of about 3” to 5” depth. The word litter is used for fresh litter material spread on the floor. Usually paddy husk, saw dust, ground nut hulls, chopped paddy straw or wood shavings are used as litter materials. This arrangement saves labor involved in frequent cleaning of fecal matter (droppings), however it needs periodical stirring. The litter is spread on the floor in layers of 2” height every fortnightly till the required is achieved. In this system the poultry birds are kept in large pens up to 250 birds each, on floor covered with litters like straw, saw dust or leaves up to depth of 8-12 inches. Deep litter resembles to dry compost. In other words we can define deep litter, as the accumulation of the material used for litter with poultry manure until it reaches a depth of 8 to 12 inches. The build-up has to be carried out correctly to give desired results, which takes very little attention

Advantages of Deep Litter System

Safety of Birds

Birds on rage of even in a netted yard can be taken by wild animals, flying birds, etc. When enclosed in deep litter intensive pen which has strong wire netting or expanded metal, the birds and eggs are safe.

Litter as a source of food supply

It may come as surprise to learn that built-up deep litter also supplies some of the food requirements of the birds. They obtain “Animal Protein Factor” from deep litter and some work indicates that this could learn that birds obtain sufficient of this to enable to suitable feed ration to be prepared with only a vegetable protein such as groundnut meal included in the feed. The level of vitamins such as riboflavin increases up to nearly three-fold. According to experiments conducted. The combination of this and the Animal Protein Factor is necessary to good hatchability of eggs and early growth of chickens.

Disease control:

Well managed deep litter kept in dry condition with no wet spots around water has a sterilizing action. The level of coccidiosis and worm infestation is much lower watered kept on good deep litter than with birds (or chickens) in bare yards and bare floor sheds particularly where water spillage is allowed.

Labor saving:

This is one of the really big features of deep litter usage. Cleaning out poultry pens daily or weekly means quite a lot of work. With correct conditions observed with well managed litter there is no need to clean a pen out for a whole year; the only attention is the regular stirring and adding of some material is needed.

The valuable fertilizer:

This is a valuable economic factor with deep litter. According to McArdle and Panda, 35 laying birds can produce in one year about 1 ton of deep litter fertilizer. The level of nitrogen in fresh manure is about 1%, but on well built-up deep litter it may be around 3 per cent nitrogen (nearly 20% protein). It also contains about. 2 per cent phosphorus and 2 per cent potash, its value is about 3 times that of cattle manure.

Hot weather safeguard:

This is an important feature in a hot climate. The litter maintains its own constant temperature, so birds burrow into it when the air temperature is high and thereby cool themselves. Conversely, they can warm themselves in the same way when the weather is very cool. Accordingly, it is a valuable insulating agent.

1. It is an economical

2. Hygienic, comfortable and safe to birds

3. Built up litter supplies vitamin B12 and Riboflavin to the birds

4. Controls diseases and vices

5. It increases the efficiency of production

6. Materials such as paddy husks saw dust, dried leaf, chopped straw and groundnut kernels depending upon the availability can be used as litter materials.

• Vit B2 and Vit B12 are made available to birds from the litter material by the bacterial action.

• The welfare of birds is maintained to some extend

• The deep litter manure is a useful fertilizer.

• Lesser nuisance from flies when compared to cage system.

Points to be considered while adopting deep litter system

1. The deep litter system should always kept dry.

2. Only right numbers of birds should be housed

3. The house should be well ventilated

4. The litter should be stirred at least once in a week-wet litter if any should be replaced immediately with new dry litter and birds must be fed a balanced ratio.

5. The time starting deep litter system should be in the dry period of the year as it allows sufficient time (At least two months) for bacterial action.

6. Placing of water should be given due attention to keep litter dry.

• Because of the direct contact between bird and litter, bacterial and parasitic disease may be a problem.

• Respiratory problems may emerge due to dust from the litter.

• The cost of litter is an additional expenditure on production cost.

• Faults in ventilation can have more serious consequences than in the cage system

Litter management

The nutrition value of poultry is best preserved through the proper and careful management of litter. Furthermore, it is also useful for preventing the surface and the surrounding areas from being contaminated. The importance of all types of litter management including chicken deep litter method, chicken coop deep litter method etc. is best understood in the farm house settings. So, if you plan to get the best out of your investment in poultry, then you should try to follow the standards as well as some modified strategies. There are a wide variety of maneuvers and measures when it comes to litter management. There are a number of disadvantages and damages that might be inflicted due to improper handling and poor storage techniques of the poultry litter. These effects include:

• Loss of the nutrients value from the fertilizers

• Spread of various diseases

• Odor and other related issues

• Contamination of the land and water

• Deterioration in the health of the domesticated animals including chickens, ducks and others

Deep Litter Material

Deep litter material is indeed the most widely and successfully used housing system for the poultry based settings. It involves spreading dust and other sawdust materials on the floor for different purposes. The initial layers of deep litter system helps provide a bedding sheath or layer for the animals which are always exposed to the environmental changes. Furthermore, the farmers continue to add more and more layers while cleaning out the previous layers. These mechanisms helps in keeping intact, the health of the animals as well as more conducive farm house environment for the growth of the animals.

Litter materials such as wood shavings; saw dust, paddy husk, peanut shell, paddy chaff, chopped straw and such other materials that absorb moisture well can be used depending upon the cost and availability. Spread the litter to a depth of 5 cm on the floor before introducing chicks and build it up to a depth of 15 cm by adding litter material, at the rate of about 2 cm per week. This would require approximately 10 kg of litter material/sq.meter. Litter should be raked thoroughly at frequent intervals, say at least twice a week, during the cold and rainy season, once a week during the hot season and the day after deworming. Litter should be kept dry always. During the cold and rainy season and on the area of floor where watering utensils are placed, special attention should be paid daily to check the litter condition. If required, top-dress with fresh litter. It is desirable to use dry lime at the rate of 10 kg per 10 m3 and rake the litter.

Tips for Deep Litter and keeping the litter un-wet

Deep litter method is based on allowing the coop and other forms of litter to grow with the passage of time. No matter you have backyard chickens, ducks or any other domesticated animals, the litter materials help provide a great amount of heat to the animals, especially in times of the winter season when the animals happen to be at great danger at the hands of the atmosphere. Here are some tips for the deep litter:

• Adding substantial amounts of food grade at the top layer, so that the poop may dry out in no time.

• Proper ventilation for the coop. The Importance of ventilation is really important for the respiration of the animals and for the materials to dry up. In order to estimate the levels of moisture you can pick up some litter and squeeze for seeing some change in the normal levels.

• Try to make small ventilation holes inside the farm or the room in which the animals are being kept. It is crucial that the litter should remain dried and should be removed at set time intervals.

• The chicken can also in keeping all the litter turned over. This maneuver is best done by adding some pieces of bread or any other material so that the chickens might also help in the litter management. For those of you who are new to farming, chickens also help in the processing of the litter and litter bedding by digging holes in the ground.

• Furthermore, chicken poops also come in handy for making fertilizers and chicken manure. Also try to keep the water in a running position and not in the coop. But if you do want to keep it into the coop than try to make sure that the water isn’t spilled on the litter.

• Try to make the maximum use of pie shavings and related materials for the litter management in poultry.

Disadvantages of Wet Litter

Wet litter has been proved to cause a number of harmful emissions and diseases in animals. In other words, the more wet the litter is, the higher are the chances for the spread of pathogenic bacteria. Furthermore, the overall broiler production is highly effectuated by the ammonia emissions which are given off as a result of the wet litter.(A part from this it also produces bad smell in chicken house) There are various farms all over the world that have suffered detrimental effects and losses caused by the ammonia emissions. Opposite to this, the litter should also not be kept as very dry, as it might lead to problems such as dehydration. In addition, wet litter might also increase the chances of breast blister.

The built up litter

Deep litter or built up litter is accumulation and decomposition of litter material and excreta until it reaches a depth of 8” to 12”, after an original start of 3” to 5” depth. Bacterial action decomposes litter and excreta into crumble form and heat is produced during decomposition which keeps litter dry and warm. If the amount of droppings exceeds the litter, fresh litter will be added to lower the amount of droppings. Periodical stirring of the litter should be carried out for an effective functioning of built-up litter. After one year, the litter is changed and the decomposed litter is used as good quality manure. The best built-up litter should be dry, friable and free from obnoxious odour.

Points to be considered during layer management

1. Proper cleaning and disinfection of layer house.

2. Broody hen may be separated and this broodiness may be eliminated by,

3. Provide proper floor space, feeding space and watering space both in deep-litter and cage system

4. In deep-litter system, floor space of 2 sq.ft. per bird and feeding space of 5” per bird are provided

5. In cage system 4 birds/box of 18” x 15” cage floor space is provided (0.46 sq. ft per bird)

6. 6 feet linear feeder can be used for every 30 layers or 18” diameter circular feeder of 4-5 no for every 100 birds.

7. Provide 18” diameter plastic waterer of 2 numbers for every 100 birds.

8. Spread litter material, in case of deep-litter system up to 6” thickness.

9. Arrange feeder and waterer in the poultry house to the height of birds’ back.

10. Grill size may be changed according to the size of the birds head.

11. Provide nest box for every 5 layers about a week before the first egg is laid.

12. There are three types of nest: 1) Individual nest – One nest box is sufficient for 4-5 birds. 2) Community nest – This will accommodate 50-60 birds. 3) Trap nest – This will accommodate 1 bird at a time ad is used for academic and breeding studies.

13. The nest should be provided with litter material. The litter material has to be replaced at least once in a week to prevent contamination of the eggs. During night hours the nest should be closed to prevent sitting of birds in the nest.

14. In deep-litter system, the litter material should be racked in the evening daily after egg collection is over. The litter should be treated chemically at least once in a month or whenever necessary in case of wet litter problem to prevent ammonia emission in the house.

15. Provide 16 hours light during laying period.

16. Provide well-balanced layer mash. Phase feeding may be followed for layers according to age, level of production and climatic factors. The average feed consumption during laying period ranges from 100-110 gram.

17. Feed consumption during winter increases and during summer, feed consumption decreases. Summer and winter management should be followed for better flock percentages.

18. Deworming should be done regularly at an interval of 6-8 weeks depending on the worm load, especially when reared under deep-litter system.

19. Collect the eggs at least 5 times a day in deep-litter system and twice a day in cage system.

20. Cull the unproductive layers regularly.

21. Broody hen may be separated and this broodiness may be eliminated by,

• Providing diet containing more protein, vitamin and mineral

• Light may be provided through out night.

• Birds may be placed in cages

• Birds may be subjected to stress

• Liver stimulant may be provided.

Floor space requirement for layers:

Floor space requirement for Layers


Age (in weeks)

Deep-litter (ft2)

Cages (ft2)

Egg-type chicken










Meat-type chicken







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