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Different incubation profiles for different breeds?

Different incubation profiles for different breeds?

Written by Maciej Kolańczyk, Senior Hatchery Specialist

Breeding has powerful effects. Although all chicken breeds originate from the same wild ancestor, they differ dramatically in appearance, physiology, type and metabolic rate. Surprisingly though, one detail remains fairly constant: the incubation time. Whether for a lightweight laying hen or a solid yield broiler, it is very close to 21 days.

Comparing incubation requirements, we see similarities and differences. The most impressive similarity is the optimal temperature for embryo development: close to 100°F. And that is not only for chickens but also for other types of poultry.

Embryo temperature – usually checked by measuring the temperature of the eggshell and called EST – initially depends entirely on the environmental temperature. Later on, after day 10, the embryo begins to produce heat and then the EST depends on the balance between heat production and the opportunities to get rid of the surplus. This is where breeds can differ widely.

Chicken breeds are highly specialised. Layers and broilers have very different body constitutions, like sprinters and heavyweight boxers.

A layer – also as the parent stock – is a champion egg layer. It must be light and cheap to maintain – and produce eggs with very strong shells for protection. Broiler breeds are just the opposite: they need to have a healthy appetite and be able to convert big quantities of feed efficiently into body mass. Quality of eggshell is much less important for them. These rough characteristics determine the differences in appropriate incubation programs.

Some differences apply to the entire incubation period, others do not. Eggshell quality is an example of a durable difference. Due to long-term intentional genetic selection, layer embryos are “better packed” in a strong, thick shell, which can have an impact on egg weight loss during incubation and creates a...

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