Posted: July 12, 2018

An increasing number of today's consumers are scanning egg cartons for the words "cage-free," "natural," "free-range," and the like.

So much so, in fact, that many large institutional buyers of eggs and egg products have announced that within 10 years they will do business only with cage-free production facilities, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

That shift in consumer behavior is prompting some poultry producers to change the manner in which chickens are housed and cared for, and research under way in the college will help them convert from traditional caged housing to noncaged systems that continue to maintain the health and safety of flocks and employees.

"Many consumers want food-producing animals such as chickens to live in environments that are nonconfining," said Eileen Fabian, professor of agricultural engineering and environmental biophysics. "But the overall sustainability of cage-free systems is in question when one considers the increased feed, fuel, land, and labor they require."

Fabian and colleagues Long Chen, doctoral student; Paul Patterson, professor of poultry science; Daniel Hofstetter, extension research assistant; and John Cimbala, professor of mechanical engineering, are examining various cage-free building configurations.

Their goal is to design effective systems for improving indoor air quality and uniformity in cage-free houses, especially those that provide supplemental heat, and to develop mechanisms that reduce airborne disease spread within and between hen houses.

--Amy Duke