The Lagerwey broiler hatchery in the Netherlands, was recently expanded to accommodate more demand for chicks. The poultry industry in Western Europe is not integrated to the degree that is common in the U.S. Hatcheries in Europe typically have to compete to become chick suppliers for independent growers. Because of this, Evert Kampert, hatchery manager, Lagerwey, said that producing chicks of the highest quality is the company’s first priority.

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Photo courtesy of HatchTech | After hatching, the chicks drop through holes into the bottom half of the basket, where they have access to food and water.

A different kind of hatcher

The Lagerwey hatchery was designed around equipment from HatchTech, and the new addition utilizes the latest generation of equipment from the company. The HatchCare hatchers installed in the addition at Lagerwey provide chicks with feed, water and light in the hatcher. The early feeding this system provides the chicks stimulates development of their digestive tract, prevents dehydration, and can improve bird growth and performance through time of market.

Research has shown that early feeding of chicks stimulates growth of the intestines and can affect which genes are “turned on” or expressed depending on the composition of the feed. Over the years, researchers have tried everything from in ovo feeding to gel pucks included in chick baskets as means of providing nutrition to chicks prior to their arrival on the farm. The results of these efforts have been mixed, with some of the effects not lasting past a few weeks of age, but the early feeding concept has intrigued many.

As the number of days post hatch that it takes to raise chicks to market age has declined -- in some cases to as little as 5 weeks -- the 21 days that the fertilized embryo spends in incubation at the hatchery has become a greater portion of the birds' life. Early feeding provides the opportunity for broiler and pullet producers to receive chicks that are more fully developed and ready for life in the poultry house.

Access to feed and water

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Photo courtesy of HatchTech | A specially formulated feed is provided in the bottom half of the hatcher tray, which allows egg yolk to be absorbed and used for development and not maintanence.

The hatcher baskets used at Lagerwey have two sections. On the top section, the eggs are placed pointy side down on raised plastic pins that hold the eggs in place. The basket also has holes in it of sufficient size so that the newly hatched chicks can fall through to the lower section of the baskets.

The lower basket section has a specially formulated starter feed in troughs on two sides. The feed has been formulated in cooperation with Cargill, and it is available in bag or bulk, and a system at Lagerwey is used to put the feed into the hatcher trays automatically.

Access to troughs with continuously running fresh water is provided to chicks on the other two sides of the lower part of the hatcher tray. Because these watering troughs or “gutters” are built into the hatcher, water has to be provided in gel form during transport.

In addition to providing chicks with feed and water, the hatchers at Lagerwey also have lights that turn on automatically on the hatch date. Just as in the poultry house, the light stimulates the chicks to get up to eat and drink.

The two-tier hatcher tray system separates the chicks from the egg shells and unhatched eggs, giving them 40 percent more space to move around. Because the system doesn’t require a fluff room, it doesn’t take more cubic feet of hatchery space to hatch the same number of chicks.

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Photo courtesy of HatchTech | Access to fresh running water in the hatcher prevents early hatching chicks from dehydrating.

Hatcher operation

The temperature within each row of trolleys is controlled by a radiator system in the hatcher, which adjusts the air temperature. This means the appropriate temperature can be maintained for each trolley without having to rotate trolleys or worry about placement of eggs in the hatcher by age of the breeder flock.

Because chicks have access to feed and water, early hatching chicks won’t dehydrate before the hatch is pulled. This allows the hatchery manager to avoid using temperature or reduced ventilation to narrow the hatch window.

Chick processing changes

Because of the two-tiered basket, the chicks have already separated themselves from the unhatched eggs when the hatch is pulled. Automated equipment counts the number of unhatched eggs in the upper tray and using this data to decide how many chicks need to be added to the lower half of the tray to make a full “box” of chicks for delivery. Chicks can go from the hatcher to the poultry house without being touched.

Testing the impact of early feeding

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Photo courtesy of HatchTech | Lights on the radiators of the hatcher stimulate chicks to get up and move to the sides of the hatcher tray, where fresh water is provided.

When asked about the decision to adopt this new early feeding hatching system, Kempert said: “It is all about improving the chick quality. This system provides water, feed and light from the moment the chick hatches. It is a step forward for animal welfare. This is completely new, it is a step forward.”

An integrated operation would be able to reap any benefits of early feeding when the layer or broiler has completed its production cycle. An independent hatchery can charge more for chicks or gain market share to be able to cover the cost of feeding the chicks. Kampert said the system is new and Lagerwey was temporarily charging customers the same price for chicks that were hatched in the new part of the hatchery and fed in the hatcher as they were the other chicks. Lagerwey is working with its customers that are receiving early fed chicks to do paired house trials to see if they can capture the expected performance benefits.

 Commenting on how he thought the early feeding system was working at Lagerwey, Kampert said, “The hatchability is very good, perfect chick quality. It brings a lot for animal welfare. We as a company have very high expectations of this.”