In essence there is no issue in transporting day old chicks from the hatchery to the broiler house, the chicks can survive up to 3 days on the energy in their yolk sack. However, wouldn’t it be better to hatch the chicks in the broiler house and get them directly to feed and water ? Giving the animals a head start, that is what X-Treck of Vencomatic is about. A systems innovation.
By Fabian Brockötter
The heating system of the broiler house of Kees Koolen in the southern town of Bergeijk in The Netherlands has been turned up to 38 degrees Celsius for a day or two now. Pre heating the building to a temperature this high isn’t normal, usually a mere 33 degrees is sufficient to welcome new day old chicks. In Koolen’s case, he isn’t getting chicks, but expecting incubated eggs directly from the hatchery. He explains: ,,The eggs are coming here on day 18 of the incubation process. Instead of moving the eggs to the hatching baskets in the hatchery they are transported to my farm in the setter trays.” The setter trays are transferred onto the innovative X-Treck system, designed by Vencomatic. This system equally distributes the trays throughout the broiler house via a rail system. A little patience and a carefully monitored temperature between 37 and 38 degrees does the rest.
Some of Koolen’s guests look surprised when they see the hatching eggs standing upright in the setter trays. ,,A lot of people, even seasoned poultry experts, think that an egg has to be horizontal for the chick to find his way out, like they are in the hatching baskets in the hatchery. Years of experience in our Patio system and in test with the X-Treck system show that hatching results are the same or even slightly better when the egg is upright”, says John Aendekerk, product manager of Vencomatic. He is in the lead when it comes to tests at Koolen’s farm and does research in how to fine tune the system. Aendekerk: ,,It evolves all around the micro climate around the egg. In our first experiments years ago , we saw the essence to regulate the exchange of heat and CO₂ That is why the whole system is winch able and floating above the floor, leading to far better hatching results, up to 97 percent.”
Different settings of the system have been tested for different heating systems. Koolen’s house has indirect ambient temperature heating, on two other farms, floor heating and infrared heating are tested. Koolen: ,,No matter what heating system the poultry farmer has, hatching results have to be reliable. Of course a high percentage is necessary for economic, but it is at least important to know exactly how many chicks are in the house for management purposes. In Europe we are limited at 42 kilo’s per square meter, with fines attached when we cross the limit. We have to plan ahead with our processors how many broilers at what time at what weight we are going to supply to the slaughter house. In the worst case, when we cannot meet the target weight, we even have to change the chicks final destination.”
To test and compare results between day old chicks from the hatchery and the chicks hatched in de broiler house, Koolen receives a batch of eggs and a batch of day old chicks from the same parent stock flock. ,,The hatching eggs and the chicks have been side by side in the incubator until day 18. Half of them were transferred to the farm, half of them will hatch in the hatchery.” Some 48 hours before the chicks arrive from the hatchery the first squeaks can be heard on the setter trays in the X-Treck system. 24 hours before their siblings arrive on the farm, about 80 percent of the eggs in the broiler house have hatched. Everywhere you look chicks are jumping with a big leap from the system into the wood shavings on the floor, where they dry up. Within minutes they find their way to water and feed. Koolen: ,,It is great to see that these chicks are drinking and eating, more than 24 hours before the hatchery is delivering the one day olds.”
,,A good start goes a long way”, knows Aendekerk. ,,The chicks that hatched on site are at least one day ahead of their counterparts and will stay one day ahead during the whole round.” Getting feed in the chicks so soon, gives a lot of advantages. ,,We know that a chick does well on the energy in the yolk sack, for 3 days if necessary. However, when the chick gets feed as well, the intestines are activated and the chick gets a surplus of energy. This surplus is used to boost the immune system.”
The idea behind the X-Treck system is to gain effectiveness to the poultry chain. The system can be implemented in every closed and mechanically ventilated house worldwide. That said, a standard broiler house is no hatchery. Heating up a house is less efficient than hatching the eggs in a small hatcher. However, an egg that is incubated for 18 days and stays on the setter tray, is more cost efficient and easy to handle, compensating for the extra costs of heating and the extra 3 days of usage of the house (1,5 eurocents extra costs). The absence of animal transportation is favorable as well, at the least in the eyes of animal welfare groups.
Hatching in the broiler house has one other advantage. Because of the large volume of air in the house there is no necessity to cool the eggs down with high airspeed to prevent overheating, as is done in the hatchery. There, air with a high relative humidity is used to prevent dehydration, with a result that rotten eggs can burst out and potentially spread disease. In the broiler house humidity is lower, leading to an absence of burst eggs and healthier chicks. Koolen: ,,The main reason why I chose to implement this X-Treck system was to improve the overall health and hygiene status of my farm. The chicks are healthy and start up ahead of the day olds from the hatchery. Keeping in mind the reduction of antibiotic use we have to pursue, this is a valuable step as well.”