The ultimately goal is to reduce the need for antimicrobial interventions by improving resilience of broilers. In our first study, we are investigating the consequences of the peri-hatching environment in broiler chickens on health, welfare and performance in later life. Because of differences in hatching time, handling and transportation, the time between emergence from the eggshell and first feed and water intake can be up to 48-72 hrs in chickens. To reduce this period without feed and water and the stress involved during handling and transportation of chickens, several hatching systems have been developed in the recent years.

Two of those systems are investigated in the current study. The HatchCare system, which is located at the hatchery, hatches the eggs in cradles during the last 3 days of incubation where light, feed and water is provided. After processing with minimal handling, chickens are transported to the broiler farm. The X-Treck system is an on-farm hatching system, where eggs incubated for 18 days are placed in the broiler house and chickens have immediately access to feed and water after they have hatched. In contrast, chickens in the conventional system hatch in baskets in a dark incubator and are provided with feed and water after processing, transport and arrival in the broiler house.

Our experiment consists of 3 hatching treatments: conventional, HatchCare and X-Treck and they are tested in 3 consecutive cycles at the Experimental Poultry Centre in Geel, Belgium. In each cycle, two rooms, both containing 2 pens, are assigned to each hatching treatment, with 1,150 Ross broiler chickens per pen. Hatchability and chick quality, mortality and performance, behavioural observations and tests, welfare indicators and slaughter yield are measured and used as indicators for resilience. The experiment will be running until the end of October and we are looking forward to present the results to you at a later stage.

Source picture: Experimental Poultry Centre, Poiel 77, 2440 Geel, Belgium