Better health in chicks hatched in barn, research shows

A study from Wageninen University has suggested broilers that hatch in the barn suffer lower mortality levels and foot lesions. “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.

This research focuses on the influence of the events surrounding the hatching of the chicks on their physiological and behavioural development. 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 the Belgian city of Geel show that chicks that hatch in a barn develop better health. “It seems plausible that the circumstances surrounding the animal’s earliest stages in life have a lasting effect on its health and behaviour. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms,” said De Jong. Some effects disappear when the chicks age. For example, chicks that hatched in the barn were heavier than those from the hatcheries until the 21st day, after which this difference disappeared. This study, conducted under controlled circumstances, largely confirms previous findings from farms.

“This is the first study that also considers the long term effects,” said De Jong. The different hatching systems did not show any differences in behaviour. However, both younger and older chicks reacted differently when exposed to testing situations. This effect will be investigated further in a follow-up study, to be conducted in collaboration with the department of Adaptation Physiology and the EU-project Healthy Livestock.

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