The poultry robot has changed my life: a testimonial by Laëtitia Savary
The poultry robot has changed my life: a testimonial by Laëtitia Savary
26 February 2024
With her husband Benoît, Laëtitia Savary runs a breeder flock of 20,000 great-grandparent birds (GGP) in Bouchamp-lès-Craon, Mayenne, France. Facing problems with floor eggs and even a burnout due to work pressure, Laëtitia is behind the development of Spoutnic, the poultry robot that gets the birds moving. How has the robot changed her life on the farm? Laëtitia Savary shares her experience, describes her improved floor egg percentages and new work structure.
Before the poultry robot, what was your daily routine?
Laëtitia Savary (LS): With each flock, we struggle to get the birds to lay in their nests, because eggs laid on the floor are downgraded. There’s a lot to learn between 25 and 30 weeks of age. We need to get the flock moving as much as possible, by disturbing them regularly to urge them to visit the nest. Before the robot, I’d walk my four pens every half hour, taking objects with me. Because habituation is a concern, I had to keep changing the objects I used: a bag, a stick with a strip of tarp, something to make a noise... We woke the hens at 7 am, so I’d start walking the pens at 8 am after feeding, every half hour, until early afternoon. Once the bulk of the laying was done, I spaced the rounds out more, making one round every hour from 2pm to 4–5pm.
At the time I only had one building but I was walking up to 7 or 8 km a day, not counting the number of squats I was doing to pick up eggs from the floor. I also had to step over the chain feeders, which come to above knee level. It was very physical; I couldn’t go on like that!
How has the robot changed the floor eggs rate?
LS: Some flocks are more complicated than others, with birds that are harder to rear, depending on what they learned in the brooding house. The birds come to us at around 20 weeks and their behaviour depends very much on how the farmer before us looked after them: if he spent time with them, if he got them moving... Some of my flocks had floor eggs rates as high as 25%. So, I was picking up eight to nine hundred floor eggs every day, there was nothing else I could do. Even though they fetched a tenth of the price because they were downgraded, they still had to be sent to the hatchery! And one egg attracts another: the more eggs you leave on the floor, the more the birds will think this is the place to lay...
With the robot, I’ve managed to produce flocks with floor eggs rates below 5%. The results vary depending on the batch and the pullets’ early rearing, but 5% is always the target. If we reach it at peak of lay, we know the flock will stick to that rate until culling.
What do you observe about the birds’ behavior?
L.S.: The robot encourages the birds to visit the nest. It also boosts fertility, which tends to drop after 45 to 50 weeks. For my part, I monitor the males’ weight, knowing that if they gain too much, they’ll have leg problems and stop mating. As for the robot, it’s used to prevent the birds from staying still after feeding or from going to sleep, something that gets worse with age. It stimulates the birds and generates activity, including mating.
As regards penning, this happens when you have mature males that are very keen to mate and become aggressive. In this case I rely on two techniques: I lower the ratio of males to females from 1:10 to 0.7:10, and I use the robot to shake the males up and get the birds mixing.
What is your day like with a poultry robot?
L.S.: We manage time differently with the robot. Before the robot, we used to walk the pens every half hour, partly to get the birds moving but also to pick up the floor eggs. It was pretty non-stop, you had to juggle your tasks. Now the robot has taken over, we only walk the house to pick up the eggs. There’s a lot less of them, so one round an hour is enough. This frees up time to do other things, such as collecting eggs from nests or technical performance monitoring, with weighing of males and hens which needs to be done every week.
There were some tasks we couldn’t do before that we can do now, like monitoring the birds. To be a good farmer, you need to spend time in the pens, to see how the birds behave. Are they feeding well? Drinking well? Moving around well? Are the males and females getting along? Monitoring helps you to understand a lot of things and to prevent problems.
What new routine have you adopted?
L.S.: We used to work all day long: we’d wake the hens at 6 am, we’d feed them, then there’d be the laying. The birds have 14 to 15 hours of light during the day and the next day’s laying starts twelve hours after lights-out. Laying tended to be in the late morning and early afternoon, so we didn’t have many eggs to collect in the morning. That was a bit of a pain because it took up the whole day, including at weekends. We had no time for ourselves.
Two years ago, in consultation with our technical expert, we decided to shift the schedule. We turn the lights on at midnight or 1 am and feed the birds between 6 and 7 am, turning the lights off at 3 pm. This gives us eggs to collect first thing in the morning. There is no idle time at the start of the day, and we finish earlier. We go back in the afternoon, but only to finish what needs to be done and to do maintenance.
How do you use the poultry robot?
L.S.: In this new routine, we put the robot to work overnight, from lights-on through to feeding. It gets the birds moving and encourages them to go to the nest. We set the robot the day before, programming it to start after lights-on. After that, you can programme up to three time slots. The robot allows us to vary the stimuli and its use should be gradually stepped up as needed. When using it for the first time, you mustn’t set the robot to maximum speed. You need to observe the birds and put the robot in the pens for more or less time depending on the changes in floor eggs rate.
As we only have a few weeks to deal with the problem of floor eggs, we use the robot intensively when the birds are coming into lay, from 25 to 32 weeks. It operates throughout laying during this period.
Does the poultry robot improve working conditions?
L.S.: Having the robot doesn’t necessarily relieve the pressure for the robot to be a success, because, for us, a flock represents an accounting year. On the other hand, it makes things physically easier, by reducing floor eggs and joint and muscle problems. It also allows us to get away from work. On Sundays for example, we can finish around noon or 1 pm and not have to go back into the buildings, so we can have a real afternoon off.
Of course, collecting eggs is part of the job. But it mustn’t become unmanageable because, even if you’re passionate, a daily routine that turns into a misery ends up putting you off. I’ve had a burnout myself, and I know that’s both common and taboo. When it happened to me, I thought about quitting and I put my building up for sale. With the robot, in the end I could go on. In fact, my husband joined me in 2017 and since then we’ve built a second building!
As Laëtitia Savary’s experience shows, the poultry robot can be an attractive tool to improve your farm profitability and your working conditions. Want to find out more about the benefits of this machine? Also read our article on how to reduce floor eggs rate and avoid spending the whole morning on it. You can also try our simulator to assess how much floor laying is really costing you per flock.