When broilers are caught and caged for transport to the processing plant, the care and attention that was paid to them as chicks fresh from the hatchery is all too often absent.

Chicks at hatcheries, which often have dedicated staff for various production stages, are handled with great care so that they are not harmed. Chick transport to farms is carried out in trucks that have been specially designed to ensure maximum comfort, and to minimize the number of dead on arrivals.

Once broilers are ready to be shipped to the processing plant, however, careful handling is too often absent, despite them being the embodiment of a 40-day investment.

Applying the approach taken with chicks to broilers during the pre-slaughter period could help to ensure that the highest number of birds reach the slaughter plant in the best possible condition and maximize yield.

Assign a logistics coordinator

Pre-slaughter is too often characterized by not having a dedicated manager and, as a consequence, birds are left in the hands of the catching crews and truck drivers.

This situation contrasts sharply with the careful handling of chicks and their transport, but can be resolved by appointing a pre-slaughter logistics manager.

Provide good cages

The pre-slaughter coordinator must ensure that cages, or any other containers used for transporting birds, are always in good condition, so no harm is done to the chickens.

To achieve this, once the cages have been washed and disinfected, they should be carefully inspected. Those with missing lids, or that are split or broken, must be replaced with cages that have been properly repaired.

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Broilers leaving the farm for processing are rarely treated in the same was chicks leaving the farm, and this has implications for processing plant yields.

Capture, handle with care

The coordinator, or a representative, should be present when birds are captured and caged to ensure they are properly caught and well treated throughout this stressful process.

Too often, birds are caught by the legs. This is done for speed, with performance measured by how quickly cages can be filled and trucks dispatched to the processing plant.

This focus runs completely contrary to the primary goals of the poultry industry, i.e. supplying the market with the highest possible number of Grade A birds.

Chickens should always be caught by the body, holding the wings close so they cannot flap. By using this method, the number of birds rejected due to damage can be reduced to 0.5 percent of the total kilos processed.

Too often, too many birds are placed in the same transport cage, which increases the risk of death due to stress. Catchers need to be properly informed of the maximum number of birds per cage.

When it comes to loading the cages onto the trucks, the birds’ air needs should be considered. Mobile fans, ideally with a diameter of 60-80 inches can help to ensure that air passes through cages that are placed in front of them.

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Ensure good transport

Chicks are usually shipped in specially designed, air-conditioned trucks that protect them from unfavorable conditions, such as extremes of hot and cold.

Broilers should also be transported with the prevision of maximum comfort.

Truck platforms need to be in good repair, with no damage, corrosion or sharp areas that could damage the cages or, in a worst-case scenario, the birds.

Trucks must be designed in such a way as permit air to flow to the birds. Good air flow, particularly in hot climates, helps to dissipate evaporative heat that would otherwise build up while the birds are in the cages.

Properly managed transport equipment and facilities can reduce the level of dead on arrivals to as little as 0.7 percent.

Once unloaded into the waiting areas of the processing plant, birds still need ventilation. There should be humidifiers that start when the relative humidity falls significantly. Ideal conditions for chickens are temperatures of 22-26C with a relative humidity of 60 percent.

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Ventilation is highly important to minimize the number birds dead on arrival at the processing plant.

Poor management consequences

A large number of birds tends to be rejected at the poultry processing plant due to varying degrees of damage.

It is worth remembering that, depending on the market, up to 85 percent of the meat suitable for human consumption can be lost should a bird die from heat stress on the way to the processing plant.

While this will result in an increase of subproducts, these subproducts may lose up to 66 percent of their commercial weight due to the dehydration that occurs during their processing.

Failure to properly manage pre-slaughter is also well illustrated if one considers its impact on gizzards.

Where the feed withdrawal period has not been properly managed and has been too long, a high proportion of gizzards may take on a greenish color, and dehydration and weight loss will occur, so reducing the overall yield of the processed birds.

Producing as much Grade A chicken is a common goal across production and processing, but during pre-slaughter this goal is sometimes forgotten. The care and attention paid to housing, equipment, biosecurity, management and feed during growing, and to the various activities of poultry processing is too often absent during the pre-slaughter period, and extending the responsibilities of those working in broiler rearing to better control this phase can help to improve performance at broiler processing.