STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State Univ. has built a new poultry research facility to provide researchers and students opportunities to compare caged and cage-free egg production and quality along with bacterial diversity between housing. This effort is being led by assistant poultry professor Pratima Adhikari.

“I have wanted to build a cage-free facility since my arrival on campus, to better understand the differences in management between the cage and cage-free systems,” Adhikari said. “For instance, hens in the cage-free system have access to both indoor and outdoor facilities. I want to look at how that impacts management practices.”

According to the university, less than 16 percent of eggs are produced cage-free. In order to meet demand, 70 percent of the 320 million birds in the US will need to be cage-free by 2025.

“In just a few years, the bulk of the laying hen industry is likely going cage-free,” Adhikari said. “We have to address questions that producers have about converting to cage-free production systems and bird health in a cage-free environment. Hen health will be the major issue while converting the production system to cage-free, and this should be addressed by implementing several management and feeding strategies in the facility.”

Adhikari and graduate students plan to measure egg quality through weight, shell quantity compared to shell contents, shell thickness and weight, as well as the quality of the egg white. Each will help determine if there are major differences based on housing type.

“Dr. Adhikari brings a fresh, new perspective and innovative ideas to this important area of research for one of Mississippi’s most important agricultural commodities,” said Mary Beck, head and professor in the Dept. of Poultry Science at Mississippi State.

A total of 200 hens are divided between 12 new dual pens, with each about 12 ft.-by 5 ft. inside and 24-ft.-by 5 ft. outside with outdoor access.