It has been several weeks since we published our first article on ‘early feeding’. Since then we at EmTech have had a chance to talk with DOC producers and integrators who have been able to compare chicks from EmTech systems with those from an early feeding facility.
To date we do not have any scientific evidence that ‘early fed’ chicks reach growth targets any earlier, but anecdotal evidence suggest that all birds seem to complete the cycle at a similar rate regardless of being ‘early fed’. These are, of course, early days but it would seem strange to charge more for chicks that do not perform any better than those from EmTech hatcheries where we can guarantee that the hatch window is short enough for chicks not to require feed and water before they reach the growing farm.
Some of our customers recently compared higher priced ‘early fed’ chicks from a 35 week flock hatched in the Netherlands with a traditionally hatched EmTech chicks in the UK, and found no significant difference in quality or farm performance except that chick mortality was slightly higher with the ‘early fed’ chicks.
EmTech incubation systems have now been installed in many hatcheries worldwide and we find overwhelmingly that once their customers have experienced the superior quality of day-old chicks from EmTech systems, they do not want chicks from any other source. We have championed the reasons for this in many articles. With a well-sealed incubator cabinet, offering superior thermal insulation properties and optimal trolley orientation we have optimised heat transfer and temperature bandwidth within the egg pack. No other incubator can match this. This is why we believe that ‘early feeding’ systems were developed to cover the inadequacies of poor environmental conditions within their incubators. Clever marketing, aimed primarily at the supermarkets, has ensured that if welfare is in the mix it will spark the industry to react. You can be sure that early feeding systems were not developed primarily for chick welfare, however welcome that is.
At this stage it may be worthwhile to look at why some incubation systems require early feeding to provide better quality chicks and improved welfare and why some, such as EmTech, do not.
In the 1960s and 70s the demand for chicken meat grew very quickly and many incubator manufacturers set out to build larger machines to satisfy this demand. Many manufacturers chose to expand their individual machines widthways. This had major benefits for the manufacturer because only one central fan was required to ventilate double or triple the quantity of eggs. The downside was that with several banks of eggs in trolleys each side of the fan, some turned against the air flow, eggs were deprived of air movement and subsequently hot (under-ventilated) spots and cold (over-ventilated) spots became the norm throughout the egg pack. The remedy for this was to regularly move trolleys throughout the 18-day process. We are sure that many readers will be familiar with this practice. When CO2 was realised to be beneficial in the early embryonic stages some remedial changes were made to improve the air flow so that trolleys did not have to be moved and the CO2 lost. Unfortunately, these ‘improvements’ were not enough to create a true homogeneous environment within the egg pack, and therefore the legacy of that early decision to expand machines widthways has dogged many manufacturers to this day.
The problem is that however hard manufacturers try to remedy it, hot and cold spots still cause temperature fluctuations that result in a prolonged hatch window, often with chicks hatching over a 36-hour period or more. This, of course, also causes chick welfare issues because a good percentage of the birds are either dehydrated or still wet at take-off. ‘Early feeding’ systems will mask the discrepancy of prolonged hatches and therefore is an excellent solution for these type of systems as it conceals the deficiencies in the incubator design and dramatically improves the welfare of the chicks in these systems.
In those early days some companies took a different approach and expanded their machines in a linear, lengthwise, direction. The benefit of this decision being that there was always only one trolley each side of the central paddle fan. Furthermore, with each trolley set at right angles to the fan, even when turned, the correct air volume is provided to every single egg regardless of where it sits in the trolley. These single-stage machines were easy to expand, usually in six-trolley, controlled, sections, but however big the machine became (6, 12, 18 or 24 trolleys) the airflow is always optimal throughout the entire egg pack of up to 140,000 eggs. Revealingly, even in the very early days there was never a need to move trolleys during the incubation period in this type of machine.
EmTech’s roots are firmly planted in this linear type of incubation system. Indeed, some current employees even presided over the very first linear single-stage systems to be developed and installed. EmTech has always realised the potential of those early systems and while retaining their best characteristics, have developed and improved every aspect of the cabinet design, all engineered elements and control systems to create what they believe to be the best incubator on the market today – untainted by the legacy of historical design flaws yet building on, and improving, the elements that always worked well.
It is no surprise that the chick quality may be similar from ‘early feeding’ systems and EmTech systems because the inadequacies of their incubation system have been concealed. This would seem a very expensive remedy but is correct for these type of incubation systems, even if their eggs have to be set earlier and hatcheries need to be bigger and with staff available to prepare and administer feed and water. The downside is that these hatcheries will have to charge more for their chicks to effectively compensate for the inadequacies of their own incubation systems.
With EmTech there is no need for ‘early feeding’ systems because its optimal incubation process ensures that all the developing embryos experience the same environmental conditions and consequently all hatch within a very short hatch window. Precocial chicks, such as chicken, have no predisposition to feed immediately because their larger yolk sack is specifically evolved to synchronise the post hatch feeding process between all hatchlings. With EmTech Systems the hatch window is optimally narrow ensuring that there is plenty of time to transport chicks to the farm well before they become distressed. The result is well conditioned, high quality, farm ready, chicks every hatch.
If you are able, please compare the quality of EmTech chicks with ‘early-fed’ chicks, EmTech may be able to arrange visits to their hatcheries throughout the world for you to decide for yourself. Please contact us if you would like to discuss it with our highly experienced team.