On-farm hatching may benefit bird welfare

Early results indicate lower chick mortality when hatched on the farm, as well as better average daily gain of the chicks.  | File photo

A poultry company is studying the logistics and benefits of bringing the eggs to the farm and hatching them there instead


Hatching chicks on the farms where they are raised, rather than in a hatchery for later shipment to the farm, might improve bird welfare and performance.

Groupe Westco, a New Brunswick poultry company, has undertaken research on the subject, with full results expected in 2021.

Marco Volpe, a senior manager with Groupe Westco and a director with Chicken Farmers of New Brunswick, discussed the research Nov. 12 during an online presentation to the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council.

Hatcheries normally procure eggs from breeder farms, incubate them and supervise hatching before shipping young chicks to the farms where they will be raised.

Groupe Westco is studying the logistics and benefits of bringing the eggs to the farm and hatching them there instead.

Early results indicate lower chick mortality when hatched on the farm, as well as better average daily gain of the chicks. There is also a higher percentage of actual hatch on the farm as compared to hatcheries, Volpe said.

“On average, we see over 2.5 percent better hatch at the farm, meaning if the average hatch at the hatchery is, let’s say 85 percent, on farm it would be 87.5.”

Research was unable to compare feed conversion between the two methods, although it is assumed that better daily gain is connected to better feed conversion.

Animal welfare is a key part of the research, Volpe said.

“When chicks are born at the farm, it avoids the stress of transport, the stress of environmental change and the stresses of handling.

“We were hoping to find out that if the chicks have access to feed and water faster, performance would be better,” and that appears to be the case based on early results.

“We are convinced that this practice is beneficial to the health and welfare of birds.”

Volpe said hatching eggs on the farm does not necessarily require additional equipment.

“Many will think that we need special equipment at the farm. Well, no. There’s no need to add equipment to hatch chicks on farm. Just like the hen has always done it in the wild, the eggs will hatch on farm if the environmental conditions are good. Therefore no equipment is required except for the handling of eggs if necessary.”

In the research, however, the eggs were placed in slats within the barn. Under the slats was a low platform where the chicks would fall after hatching.

“We found out that when the chicks hatch they are exhausted and wet and if they fall directly into the bedding, they sometimes end up on their back, exhausted, and can be dehydrated before they can even get up,” Volpe said.

By landing first on a platform, they can rest and dry off before seeking nearby feed and water.

Biosecurity measures would be the same on a farm that hatches eggs as for farms accepting young chicks, said Volpe. Standard and stringent disinfection measures would also apply in both cases.

However, Canadian regulations would require a farm to get a hatchery licence before proceeding with on-farm hatching.

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