Earlier this Fall, 3 EFA representatives had the opportunity to visit the Vencomatic campus in Eersel, Netherlands and met with Peter Vengerling, Director of Corporate Affairs. During our visit, Peter told us the story of how the unique Rondeel housing system was developed and now we’d like to share this inspiring and interesting story with you.
At the end of the 1990s, as a result of large public protests, discussion had begun in the Netherlands about how the egg industry was changing, and that to remain competitive, housing systems needed to be based on consumer demands rather than only the needs of the farmer. This shift in thinking was how the idea for a new type of housing system was hatched.
The Rondeel housing system was developed following a 2 year multi-stakeholder engagement process. Stakeholders from a wide array of areas including consumers, scientists, farmers, welfare activists and egg supply chain representatives submitted ideas, and from these ideas concept drawings were created. While there was a lot of mistrust between stakeholders at the start, they continued to work together and at the end, had developed two different egg housing concepts.
Vencomatic decided to move from concept to reality by building the Rondeel system. Vencomatic received funding to help market the eggs, and Peter stressed to us that innovation needs to be funded as it costs too much to survive while an idea picks up market share.
The Rondeel system has some very unique features including:
- Indoor “night quarters” where the birds can eat, drink, nest and rest
- Walls that open each morning creating one environment for the birds with indoor and outdoor areas.
- An outdoor area with a roof system that can close when it is raining but open when it is sunny. The outdoor area also has a variety of artificial trees and tables to provide cover in the outdoor ranges, which has significantly improved the birds’ use of the range area. The outdoor range also has curtains that let light in, and can be seen through, but act as wind screens. This design provides for improved biosecurity – during the AI outbreak in the Netherlands birds in the Rondeel system didn’t need to be kept inside.
- A bird viewing area that puts visitors at the same height as the birds. People are encouraged to visit the farm whenever the birds are awake, and in any weather. This provides not just a transparent way of farming, but helps to connect society to the farm. There are even bike paths that go right to the barn and a playground is outside – making Rondeel an inviting destination for a family outing.
Peter also passed on some of the lessons farmers using the Rondeel system have learned through the years.
- Lighting in the pullet and layer housing systems need to be similar or birds don’t adapt well to the layer barn.
- In the wild, hens have to spend 80% of their time seeking food with their beaks. On our farms, food is provided for the hens, but they still need something to do with their beaks to prevent feather pecking. A system with lots of “interesting” areas to peck and explore helps keep the birds busy. Birds in the Rondeel system are not beak trimmed but are able to maintain good feather cover.
- In the beginning, the system used artificial grass in order to maintain grass longer for the hens. They found that cleaning was a real challenge with the artificial grass and have now moved to concrete, sand and woodchips to provide a good surface for the birds, to improve cleaning and to prevent the hens from digging deep holes.
- Choose a breed that suits your system. In the case of the Rondeel system, they need a very relaxed bird.
As the Rondeel system was being built, they knew they needed to differentiate their eggs at the grocery store in order to reap the premiums needed to make the system viable. They developed specialized packaging – round, biodegradable packaging with 7 eggs inside with both medium and large sizes. A booklet was also put on the top of the packaging telling the story of the system, and a QR code that directed consumers to a site where they could view a live webcam of birds in the Rondeel barn.
In the Netherldands, Rondeel eggs are actually considered free run eggs because the system doesn’t meet the free range requirements for outdoor access. However Rondeel eggs have three animal welfare stars and this is the only non-organic system to hold that rating in the Netherlands.
Currently there are 7 Rondeel systems in production in the Netherlands, and one brand new system that has been installed in China. The Rondeel is an example of renewed thinking in sustainable egg production and demonstrates what can happen when stakeholders work together to imagine a new future for the industry.