That is the question currently exercising the minds of the poultry industry. Is it really the answer to higher yields and improved welfare? To date the jury is out.
Is Early Feeding the latest fad, cynically designed to encourage the industry to follow suit for commercial gain by spurious yet convincing argument and an attempt to adopt the moral (welfare) high ground? Furthermore, could it be a perfect way to mask the shortcoming of incubation systems that cannot provide the correct environment for every single developing embryo?
This is the predictable, cynical and conspiratorial reaction that will, of course, be dispensed by all those who either do not manufacture Early Feeding systems or cannot integrate such systems into their operation without major upheaval and expense.
How does one plot a course through this ‘Early Feeding’ minefield to arrive at a balanced opinion – if that is even possible? For example, scientific papers, as we all know, can be economical with the facts to support those who have commissioned the report. Cynical again, yes, but sadly often true.
We at EmTech take a pragmatic approach, the proof of success for any new system will inevitably be the commercial hatchery results, especially of trials comparing the same, or similar, flocks over a significant time period. If those who adopt Early Feeding regularly attain significant results at kill with more, and better, quality birds that attain their target weight ahead of the traditional reared birds, then we will all be convinced. The industry will adopt this practice wholesale and every other incubator manufacturer and producer will have to catch up.
The welfare argument, however, is less easy to quantify and an emotive topic that easily engenders fearful overreaction, especially from supermarkets and commercial food retailers. Again, EmTech can only take the pragmatic standpoint and see with our own eyes if the chicks seem malnourished or dehydrated when they reach the farm. This is not difficult to assess.
Mortality rates, we feel, are probably a better benchmark to compare welfare and performance of EmTech Incubators against birds that have been subjected to Early Feeding systems. Early indications show that early fed birds do not fare so well on farm with a mortality rate at kill of between 4-6%, whereas the EmTech Effect mortality rate at kill averages 2.8%. These early results are by no means conclusive but does bear out what many studies conclude that if the earliest hatched chicks start on feed and water 24 hours, or more, prior to the last chicks to hatch, the growth trajectory to kill would likely be the same as if chicks are initially withheld feed. Indeed, our results seem to indicate that the imbalance caused by chicks that begin to feed immediately may upset the genetic predisposition of precocial bird species to synchronise emergence. This not only prevents uniformity in flocks from the very start, but in an industry where uniformity is key, it is widely accepted that chicks that are not uniform can encounter problems and are less able to compete for food, water and space on farm.
We also question why Early Feeding systems are setting eggs 12 hours early to prolong the chicks time in the hatcher. Is this concealing the shortcomings of their own equipment? This, and the provision for the preparation of feed and water and the huge amount of extra hatchery space that is required to facilitate Early Feeding in hatcheries will, no doubt, eat into hatchery budgets and eventually hit the pockets of consumers.
EmTech systems provide a temperature bandwidth of no greater than 0.6°C within the egg mass, what we call the >EmTech Effect<. We firmly believe that no other incubator manufacturer can achieve this consistently. The benefit is that all the developing embryos experience the same environmental conditions so that they all hatch within a very short hatch window. Precocial chicks, such as chickens, have a higher proportion of % yolk sack specifically evolved to help these ground feeding birds to avoid predation by being able to synchronise the post hatch feeding process between all hatchlings. If the hatch window is narrow EmTech believes that there is plenty of time to transport chicks to the farm before the chicks become distressed through lack of food and water. These are not empty claims – our customers will vouch for the exceptional quality of our chicks and their liveability on farm.
How does EmTech systems achieve the >EmTech Effect<?
- Our incubator cabinets are different – they do not utilise an aluminium framework which can act as a thermal bridge taking heat away from where it is needed and unbalancing the internal environment. EmTech use interlocking PIR panels that eliminate thermal losses, cold air pockets and condensation while also providing 30% better thermal insulation than most other systems.
- The layout of all EmTech incubators with only one trolley positioned, end-on, each side of the central fan gives the best airflow to every single egg regardless of where it is positioned within the trolley.
- The bi-directional paddle fan has a unique tapered design which significantly improves the ‘air-off’ pressure and subsequently air velocities through the egg mass. The ability to change direction and vary the speed of the fan is significant to ensure that air reaches every corner of the egg pack
- The EmTech setter has a high-quality air inlet and exhaust dampers along with an improved seal door seal design. This promotes good levels of moisture and early percentage concentration of CO2.
With a well-sealed cabinet, offering superior thermal insulation properties, a unique paddle fan design and optimum trolley orientation we have created the foundation for the optimisation of heat transfer and temperature bandwidth within the egg pack.
Time will tell whether Early Feeding will become the accepted procedure but, nevertheless, some things will never change – a tight hatch window is the best indicator that you have got it right – simple as that.