We at EmTech have always identified chick welfare as one of our top priorities when looking at the design of our incubators. That is why we have invested so much time and effort developing incubation systems that provide the optimum environment for developing stress-free embryos and chicks.
It is a given that the shorter the hatch window the better it is for welfare, chick quality and quantity. This fact is something we do not hear so much from the ‘Early Feeders’. Why? Is it, perhaps, that their machines cannot create a homogeneous, temperature-stable, environment throughout the entire cabinet? Very few, if any, can match EmTech’s, 24-hour hatch window and guaranteed 0.6 ֯C maximum temperature bandwidth. Indeed, independent reports show that most of the chicks from EmTech’s PrimoTech systems will hatch within a 12-hour period.
It is tempting to consider that the concept of ‘Early Feeding’ originated to artificially ‘improve’ stressed chicks that had either hatched early or late, depending on where they were situated within the incubator – essentially to mask the shortcomings of the incubator performance and design. Furthermore, to get ‘Early Feeding’ to work, eggs are transferred to the hatchers much earlier than in EmTech systems and even then, the hatch window often exceeds 36 hours. If chicks are not stressed and poorly conditioned after that ordeal we would be amazed.
Despite all the claims that ‘Early Feeding’ is better for chick quality, welfare, hatch results and ‘technical performance at broiler level’ (whatever that means), our results show that farm mortality can still be more than 5%. This is double what we would expect from traditionally hatched and transported EmTech chicks. If this is an indication of ‘good welfare’ then something is very wrong. It is almost as if ‘Early Feeding’ is a reaction to placate the uninformed that when a chick hatches it is somehow cruel not give it feed and water until it reaches the farm.
As we know, chicks hatch with a residual yolk sack that can sustain them until all the chicks hatch and beyond, without detriment to their health. This is the evolutionary strategy of precocial chicks to ensure that there is safety in numbers, so as not to get picked off one by one by predators as they start to search for food. The ‘Early Feeder’s’ theory is that by giving chicks feed and water as soon as their digestive track has fully formed, the residual yolk sack is pushed into the intestinal tract, naturally stimulating the absorption of the important nutrients it contains. In this way, the external feed provides the chick with the energy it needs for basic maintenance, while the high-value nutrition of the yolk can be used for critical organ and immune system development. This has not been proved and could be responsible for the increases that we see in farm mortality. What we really see is a decrease in welfare standards while attempting to cheat nature by extracting more out of the chick than is healthy for it. We are also concerned that the unnatural weight gain per day in pre-farm chicks may also go against welfare codes of practice.
New information has recently reached us that has further welfare repercussions regarding the confusion and feeding disruption that chicks endure when they arrive on farm after ‘Early Feeding’.
When the recently hatched chicks are introduced to ‘Early Feeding’ in the hatchery they become accustomed to their new environment and where to locate water and feed – water from a running water trough and feed from the opposite side of the basket. The chicks then suffer further disruption as they are collected and transported to the growing farm where they are immediately confronted with a completely new and alien environment. Their drinking water is now from higher level drinking nipples and feed is in a completely different location. The disorientation is clear to see as chicks then struggle to retrain themselves to locate their new feeding and drinking stations. This reorientation is potentially stressful and can result in a loss of early bird development and growth that can never be fully recovered. This whole process, to us, seems fraught with welfare issues at every juncture and could well explain the higher mortality that we have seen on the farms.
EmTech has far more incubation experience than any other manufacturer. It is very frustrating, therefore, for us to see that the ‘simple’ act of incubation has been ‘elevated’ to unnatural levels in the name of ‘improved welfare’. The simple truth is that if your incubator has been correctly designed, the hatch window will be shorter and the resulting chicks will be less stressed and in perfect condition. Their residual yolk sack will easily be sufficient to sustain them until they reach the farm. Their gut will then be ready to accept food and they will grow well and naturally to the Breeders’ recommendations.
As we have stated in earlier articles, ‘Early Feeding’ is entirely necessary with some incubation systems because of their outdated design and historical imperfections that are now difficult to correct. To create a system like EmTech’s PrimoTech Single Stage range that does not exceed a 0.6 ֯C bandwidth would require a complete re-design from the ground up. Sure, we at EmTech have had the luxury of being able to be pragmatic and able to put into practice all that we have learned working for other leading manufacturers. That is the nature of progress.
EmTech chicks are consistently excellent, as are their farm mortality results. This is the best demonstration we know of good chick welfare, not the unnatural early feeding of chicks to conceal the underperformance of outdated incubation systems, all in the name of ‘improved welfare’.
EmTech genuinely feel that the industry should not be ‘hoodwinked’ into thinking that ‘Early Feeding’ is the way forward. Inevitably it will drive chick prices up, the science has not been proved and chick welfare is often lower than that of a ‘traditional’, well run, hatchery.
Please do not take our word for it – just ask the non-invested hatcheries.
Nature made it simple, so why make life complicated?