Background 2881 views update:Jun 14, 2010

HatchBrood: Full kick-off from day four

Chicks need optimal brooding conditions to successfully support them through an optimal growing or rearing period. HatchBrood provides these conditions, just as if the mother hen is still taking care of the chicks for four full days. The difference, however, is that HatchBrood looks after 39,600 chicks in one room.

By Ad Bal

Day-old chicks are vulnerable little birds, and poultry producers are fully aware of this. The very first stage is a period of survival. During the hatching process the birds have been inside the egg under conditioned circumstances and at a constant temperature. From the moment of hatch, real life begins, and chicks will go either to the rearing or the growing house. In both cases, the first four days are very critical. They must begin life using the nutrients that are still available in the yolk sac for both maintenance and growth.

After four days they also need to learn to eat and drink and to become self-supporting. The conditions inside the poultry house usually vary to quite a large extent, which can be influenced by the climate and/or season, but also by management factors. In a broiler house the floor can still be wet and cold from cleaning. The right temperature at 15 cm from floor level and up will not help. After all, the birds are located at floor level. In rearing houses, temperature and especially airflow usually varies in the various corners of the building. Chicks are not able to control their own body temperature and therefore respond to these conditions by

adapting to a lower body temperature, behaving like cold-blooded animals. As a result, the birds will not use their energy adequately since their metabolism isn’t working properly. This will lead to slower growth, higher mortality, and an uneven flock. The same applies to day-old breeder chicks, of course.

Improved chick comfort

HatchBrood from the Netherlands has introduced a concept that it believes is a solution to minimise these losses and produce stronger chicks. This company was founded as a subsidiary of the HatchTech group and is a sister company of HathTech Incubation Technology.

“We are primarily specialists in incubation since we were founded,” says Commercial Director Joost ter Heerdt of HatchTech. “Based on our wide experience and knowledge of the incubation process, we were also able to develop a system to keep chicks under acclimatised conditions during these critical first four days after hatch.

”The idea was born about eight years ago, says Ter Heerdt. “We have discussed it extensively with our customers, being hatcheries and integrators around the world. At HatchTech we are particularly specialists in uniform air velocity inside the incubator. We have used this knowledge for the basics of the HatchBrood system. But, we also needed to gain knowledge on providing feed and water, as well as on manure disposal. But we have managed, and have meanwhile received a lot of useful feedback from our customers, which has helped us to define the advantages and disadvantages. After extensive research, testing and redesigning, HatchBrood was eventually born, which is now ready for market. We believe that this system provides optimum growing conditions for day-olds during those first four critical days.”

Parameters under control

Every crate, or “Cradle”, contains 50 chicks and offers feeding space on two sides and drinking space on the other side.
The HatchBrood system consists of a closed room offering space to 12 sections of 3,300 day-olds each. So, in total, 39,600 chicks can be brooded at one time. “What happens inside this room, in fact, is the taking over of the brooding from mother hen,” says Conny Maatjens, Researcher at HatchTech. “Under natural conditions, the hen keeps her chicks permanently under her wings until they are strong enough to go their own way. HatchBrood creates the same optimal conditions. It is the objective to keep all growth parameters under control. In particular, air temperature and air speed are critical factors to maintain optimum body temperatures of the birds. Of course humidity and CO2 levels, lighting, and proper feed and water supply are also very important.”

After the chicks have been hatched, they will undergo the same procedures as if they would have been taken to the growing or rearing house. This includes countingand vaccinating if necessary. Batches of 50 chicks are placed in one crate but, untraditionally, they will then be sent straight to the brooding room, which is directly connected to the preparation area. All the 50 chicks from one crate will then be tipped over into a crate of the HatchBrood system, the “Cradles”, which are stacked together in trolleys that can easily be moved into the units in the brooding room. The fully acclimatised room has a central alley and two rows of six units on either side of the alley.

Feeding troughs are located on two opposite sides of each crate and are pre-filled with pelleted feed. This is, preferably, a special type of feed developed by HatchBrood together with feed specialists. Both nutritional value and texture of the pellet are special, providingoptimal growing conditions. Of course every feed manufacturer will be able to produce this type of feed. Each day, the chicks will consume approx. 15 g of feed. Based on this expected consumption the troughs have been pre-filled in a specially developed filling station.


Optimal conditions

Crates are stacked on trolleys that can move easily in and out of the units inside the HatchBrood room.
A plastic cover is positioned on top of each crate to collect the manure, thus preventing chick manure falling into the lower crate. It is also possible to place paper on these covers to enable easier cleaning. The sections in the brooding room are separated by perforated radiators, which are the same as those used in HatchTech incubators. These are based on the patented HatchTech airflow systemfor laminar airflow. By making use of a fan on the ceiling, air can easily pass through these panels, thereby creating an even air distribution everywhere in the room.

Temperature is measured at six different places in the room and regulated through the HatchBrood climate control unit. Fresh air for the chicks comes in through valves alongside every crate, creating and air veloctiy of 0.3 m/sec through the crates, being the optimal velocity for chicks to dispose body warmth. Fresh air comes in from low pressure fans on top of the room. As a result, the chicks have permanent and direct access to it, always within a distance of 50 cm maximum.

Drinking water is constantly available through gutters alongside the radiators. The sections are illuminated by LED lightning. This not only saves energy, but also does not produce warmth and therefore does not influence the climate in the system. Depending on the flock age of the breeders where the chicks are coming from, the lighting pattern is set. Small chicks, though, need more light to guide them to feed and water, whereas the larger chicks need less light. All these circumstances lead to conditions in which the chicks feel comfortable, imitating the conditions of being underneath the wings of the mother hen during these four days. When entering the Hatchbrood room, everyone will notice that the chicks hardly produce any noise and tend to sleep all the time. This is a sure sign that the birds are comfortable in their environment.

Predicting growth process

For each section, fans and inlets are positioned on top of the HatchBrood room to supply fresh air.
“We have full confidence in the HatchBrood system because it offers various advantages,” says Joost ter Heerdt. “First, we guarantee that we can provide optimal growing conditions for the first four days, which makes it easier to predict the growing process. A better start means mortality will be reduced. Moreover, the flock will be more uniform. No matter the season or the climate outside the house, the conditions will be controlled year-round in the HatchBrood room.”

Another advantage of this system is that it is not necessary for the grower to heat the entire house for four full days, thereby lowering the CO2 footprint, and additionally saving a lot in terms of lower energy costs. Because the birds remain in the room for a shorter period of time, one more flock can be kept annually, which also means saving in terms of one less growing house. “We really believe that HatchBrood is a solution for brooding problems that many poultry companies face nowadays,” Ter Heerdt adds. “We are convinced that many growers and hatcheries around the world will understand that, and experience the benefits. We at HatchBrood are ready for take off!”


“Our customers benefit from stronger chicks”
Willy van Lith, hatchery Manager Unibroed, the Netherlands
The HatchBrood system has extensively been tested at the hatchery of Unibroed in Langenboom, the Netherlands. “We had been thinking about such a system for a long time already,” says hatchery Manager Willy van Lith. “Our objective was and still is to supply chicks to our customers that are completely free from antibiotics. Today, this is more important then ever before. Moreover, we strongly believe in the importance of animal welfare. Together with HatchTech we began testing, initially on a small scale. Later on it became more professional and it eventually turned into the current HatchBrood system, which is absolutely meeting our demands of proper brooding.”
This hatchery manager says that the advantages are clear. “We supply chicks to our customers that have made a leap forward. They will be 10% heavier on average than without brooding, and they will keep this step ahead until the end of the growing period,” confirms Van Lith.“Another advantage is that we can use chicks from very young breeders. As a result, these are no longer a low value “by-product”. With the HatchBrood room we can rear them properlyso that they can make a similar start like the chicks that came from an older flock.”
Two more additional HatchBrood rooms have been built and installed at Unibroed, and Van Lith says that he receives very positive feedback from customers. “There’s much talking about it among them. New customers from all over the country and even from neighbouring countries are showing much interest.”
On the logistics side, improvements still have to be made, like automation of the various steps in the process. But this is logical because it’s a learning curve. “The next step will be an advanced energy neutral system. Apart from that, we are convinced that HatchBrood is our solution for brooding chicks,” Van Lith concludes.

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Natalie Berkhout

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