Sex separate feeding is a profitable management tool. Fertility rates increase while males can be kept at a more healthy weight. Despite these facts, over the years little attention has been given to the development of a feeding system that meets the requirements of the fast growing birds. A new male feeder offers solutions.
By Wiebe van der Sluis
Breeder specialists of a genetics company in the Netherlands, having reviewed the existing male feeding systems, concluded that some improvements were needed to meet the requirements of the modern male breeder. Following talks with several equipment manufacturers, VDL’s product development specialists took on the challenge to develop a brand new concept: the Matrix male feeder.
They recognised that almost all male breeder feeders are a spin-off of pan feeding systems. Most of the technology is the same, with the exception that when the pan is winched down the breeder hens cannot get at it.
Traditionally, breeder houses have been designed to fulfil the needs of the breeder hen. As a consequence, little attention has been given to the extra space required for the extra male feeding line. The result is that the limited available space gets over-crowded during feeding, creating unrest among the birds. A problem associated with some pan feeding systems is that they do not deliver feed to all pans at the same time, which stimulates roosters to migrate aggressively when the feeders are winched down. In addition breeder managers see dominant males consume more feed than required, while less dominant males don’t receive enough feed. This is made possible due to large amounts of feed present and/or the presentation of the feed in the V-shaped bottom of the pan. The outcome is uneven male weights and poor mating results.
Gaining floor space
With these issues in mind some breeder farmers in the Netherlands have experimented with troughs mounted at the side wall of the breeder house. Based on these experiments one of the breeder specialists was invited by VDL to give advice on how an automatic trough feeder (as an alternative for a male pan feeder system) should look like. Trials with selected models showed that when the obvious V-shape trough was replaced with a flat bottom trough, similar to that of a chain feeder, major improvements in bird behaviour and performance were seen.
Instead of using a chain, VDL chose to fill the trough by means of an auger. The tube trough through which the auger distributes the feed has at the bottom a high number of specially-shaped holes designed to dispense feed equally. The amount of feed can be controlled by adjusting the tube at eight different heights from the trough bottom.
When feeding time starts the feed trough, filled with portions of feed, is winched down. In doing so the tube is lifted from the trough, giving access to the feed. By doing so all males eat simultaneously and with ample feeding space per bird (approx. 20 cm/bird) there is no need to fight for a feeding spot.
The flat shaped bottom forces aggressive birds to take more time to fulfil their nutritional needs, since they cannot gobble down heaps of feed. Pushing away the less aggressive males does not help, because the birds all have access to the same amount of feed, which is only available by picking at it from the flat trough bottom. This gives all males the same time to eat and to take in more or less the same amount of feed.
Better control and selection possibilities
Most of the breeder farmers who installed VDL’s Matrix male feeder did so because the system could be placed against the side wall of their breeder house, leaving more open floor space available for the birds to mate. Dutch breeder farmer Gert van den Top is one of those farmers. He did not have space for an extra male feeder line in his houses but is enthusiastic about the new feeder he mounted to the side wall.
His experience is that during feeding all males are nicely positioned in one row side by side, and show less stress than before. Having the males side by side makes the evaluation of their development much easier. While Van den Top’s installation of the feeder was too recent to talk about results, he expects satisfying improvements.
His colleague Stefan Donkers has more experience. He has a few breeder houses and installed the Matrix in a new house allowing him to compare the system with the pan feeder system he has installed in his other houses. When asked about his experiences he started off telling the advantages he noticed during the 40 weeks of the flock.
“All males receive the same amount of feed at the same time, which results in a minimum of unrest among the males. They do not have to fight for their spot at the feeder and they all receive the same amount of feed. The slow speed at which males can eat forces them to spend more time at the feeder, giving the less dominant males more time to eat resulting in a better performance and better feather condition. Not only the males get more feeding time, the females also can quietly eat without being disturbed by a male,” says Donkers.
He is enthusiastic about seeing all males lined up during feeding, which makes evaluating them an easy task. “Usually when a flock is over 40 weeks old the first males have to be replaced, but,” Donkers remarked, “there was, in this house, no reason to.” He expects that over the remaining time few or no males will be (re-)placed, since they look great and show normal mating behaviour. When comparing these males with those in his other houses he observed that the number of fertile eggs remained high, whereas in a pan feeder house this number usually drops as the birds get older.
Although the few farmers who installed the Matrix had little experience with the system, they believe that the Matrix will meet their expectations. They also believe that with time more producers will make use of this male feeding system, bringing out more data to underline the advantages. Since the system has only recently been introduced, they expect the future will reveal more as yet unnoticed advantages.