The contemporary hatchery is a complex installation. The core part is the incubators, supported by the devices that facilitate their function and auxiliary machines that reduce the demand for manual labor, according to Pas Reform Hatchery Technologies. Whatever the level of sophistication of the hatchery, its purpose remains the same: turning eggs into chicks in the most effective way.
Pas Reform senior hatchery specialist Maciej Kolanczyk said the best moment to visit a hatchery is just before hatching so all the machinery can be viewed at work for the different phases of incubation as well as the newly hatched chicks too. Planning a visit at transfer time offers even more options.
A hatchery cannot improve the eggs it receives, Kolanczyk said, adding that it is easy to spoil eggs if procedures are not optimal, but good incubation can maximize the potential created on the breeder farm.
According to Kolanczyk, a hatchery’s efficiency depends on two factors: the quality of the programs and procedures it uses, and the accuracy of their execution. The programs and procedures are an intellectual product, created from people’s knowledge and experience, and can easily be changed or corrected. However, even the best program will only produce good results if it is followed closely.
Kolanczyk said questions to ask to diagnose problems include: Do the incubators follow the programs accurately? Do they do so during the entire process, or just in certain periods? Can these periods be defined? Are the programs easy to execute, or do they require high “technical effort” (e.g., intensive cooling, heating, humidifying)? Do all machines perform consistently, or only some of them? What do the hatcher climate graphs (mainly relative humidity) look like? Are they regular or artificially “deformed” by changes in the set points?
In an optimum scenario, programs would be followed closely all the time, and the selected parameters can be achieved without much “effort,” Kolanczyk said.
Once it has been determined that the incubators are working correctly, it is time to verify the programs and procedures. That requires taking measurements during a visit and evaluating the hatchery’s routinely collected records. In most hatcheries, many batches of eggs are incubated sequentially using the same incubation program, so it is possible to check the eggshell temperature (EST) on different days of the process, Kolanczyk said.
The hatch day is the moment to judge chicken quality and look at hatch waste, i.e., unhatched eggs and shells. The following questions are useful:
* What common defects do the chicks have: thick bellies, poor navels, red hocks, dehydration, poor uniformity, weakness or others?
* Can defects be related to any known measurements, e.g., egg weight loss, EST, incubation time?
* What can be learned from the hatch waste regarding the height of pipping, the dryness of shells and unhatched embryos?
* Are there still many live embryos in the shells?
* On what day of incubation do most embryos die?
This information can be used to evaluate the incubation process and draw conclusions, Kolanczyk explained.
Obviously, incubation is not the only responsibility of the hatchery. Mistakes made before egg setting and after chicken takeoff are also a frequent source of losses, most of which can be detected by analyzing waste or obtaining feedback from clients, the specialist added.
According to Kolanczyk, a short list of actions for a hatchery visit should include:
1. Review the entire procedure, from egg receiving to chicken dispatch.
2. Make sure that the machines are following the program. If not, check the reason for this.
3. Measure the EST on several different days of incubation.
4. If possible, evaluate other important data, e.g., egg weight loss and chick yield.
5. Check and evaluate chicken quality and hatch waste.
Only after these steps are taken should the program be corrected and tried out on one or two machines, Kolanczyk said.