Two weeks ago, on Tuesday November 4, Proposition 2 passed in the state of California, making one of the first state wide steps towards positive reform of our food system. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain more in depth the aviary system for raising chickens I had mentioned in November 3rd's post.
As I stated in my last posting, the basic premise of the aviary system is a multi-level chicken coup in which the same amount of space on a farm is converted into more area for chickens via the addition of floors; think of it as an apartment building for chickens. The aviary system, however, is a little more complicated. One of the main problems with the way chickens are presently raised now is waste disposal. In an aviary coup, there are specific aisles designated for litter. These areas are cleaned via a manure belt, which eliminates the problem of sickness due to feces (god, that would stink...bad joke; couldn't resist.) In addition, aviary coups are equipped with soft nesting areas that reduce the cracking of eggs.
The big advantage of aviary systems is the amount of space they provide per bird. In a paper published in Poultry Science in 1998, the effects on bone characteristics of raising chickens in cages or in aviary chicken coups is compared and the results show that chickens raised in an aviary system have stronger bones. In the aviary system, chickens have the ability to flap their wings, walk, and perch as well as other dynamic and static activities, which all increase bone strength and thus the chickens' health. In addition, there is some correlation between bone strength and calcium depletion in egg shells. Because much of the opposition to Prop 2 focused around hens laying eggs, it is interesting to realize that the aviary system would likely reduce the amount of egg breakage both by the soft nesting areas as well as by increasing the strength of the egg shells themselves. Of course, installing an aviary system will require an initial capital investment and it has been shown that there will be a brief pause in egg laying due to the stress of moving the chickens from one place to another. All in all, however, the aviary system will improve the lives of our chickens and improve the quality of the chickens and eggs that we eat. A feel good proposition, yes?