Alternative egg production systems create hen health challenges

Dr. John Schleifer spoke Wednesday at an animal health symposium in Ames, Iowa.

“A major paradigm shift.”

That’s how Dr. John Schleifer, staff veterinarian for Iowa-based egg producer Rembrandt Foods, describes the move to alternative production systems—organic, cage-free and antibiotic-free—taking place in the egg industry. And Schleifer says it’s creating new challenges for those charged with maintaining hen health.

“As we move into more diverse production systems, with any type of change, we’re going to see a dynamic change as far as diseases are concerned,” Schleifer says.

Schleifer estimates that egg industry is already 12 percent cage-free. He says that number could double in the next four years and will likely grow to 50 percent by the year 2025.

“Those are conservative projections,” he says. “We can’t really predict the future, but definitely a lot of the major food outlets and food service chains have requested and are planning on both or either antibiotic-free and/or cage-free products.”

The move away from antibiotics means the industry will need new and better vaccines to help prevent disease, Schleifer says.

“In the future, vaccines are going to be, probably, the primary mode that we’ll be utilizing to try to prevent disease. With this tremendous paradigm change as far as production, we need that innovation going forward.”

Schleifer spoke Wednesday at the Animal Health in the Heartland symposium in Ames, Iowa. The event was presented by the Bio Nebraska Life Sciences Association (Bio Nebraska) and the Iowa Biotechnology Association (IowaBio).

AUDIO: Dr. John Schleifer

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