Broilers that hatch in the barn show fewer deaths and foot lesions, according to new research from Wageningen Livestock Research in the Netherlands.
"This hatching method may also have long-term benefits," said Ingrid de Jong, project leader on behalf of Wageningen Livestock Research, who compared traditional hatching systems with hatching in the barn for this study.
Chick health appears to be contingent on the animals' early circumstances. Alternative systems have been developed recently in which broilers hatch in the barn, where they have water and food at their immediate disposal and no longer need to be transported after hatching, Wageningen said in an announcement.
The current research focuses on the influence the events surrounding the chicks' hatching has on their physiological and behavioral development over the birds' lifetime to slaughtering age. The effects on technical results, such as growth and feed conversion, were included in the research.
Results that were measured during an experiment conducted at the testing facility poultry farm in Geel, Belgium, show that chicks that hatch in a barn develop better health, Wageningen said.
"It seems plausible that the circumstances surrounding the animal's earliest stages in life have a lasting effect on its health and behavior. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms," De Jong said.
Some effects disappear when the chicks age. For example, chicks that hatched in the barn were heavier than those from the hatcheries until day 21, after which this difference disappeared.
This study, conducted under controlled circumstances, largely confirms previous findings from farms, De Jong noted.
"This is the first study that also considers the long-term effects," De Jong said.
The different hatching systems did not show any differences in behavior in the coop. However, both younger and older chicks reacted differently when exposed to testing situations. This effect will be investigated further in a follow-up study, which will be conducted in collaboration with the department of adaptation physiology and the European Union's Healthy Livestock project, Wageningen said.
The aforementioned results are described in the following scientific publications: "Effects of On-Farm & Traditional Hatching on Welfare, Health & Performance of Broiler Chickens" in Poultry Science and "Comparative Assessment of General Behaviour & Fear-Related Responses in Hatchery-Hatched & On-Farm Hatched Broiler Chickens" in Applied Animal Behavior Science.