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To Early Feed or Not to Early Feed?

That is the question currently exercising the minds of the poultry industry. Is it really the answer to higher yields and improved welfare? To date the jury is out.

Is Early Feeding the latest fad, cynically designed to encourage the industry to follow suit for commercial gain by spurious yet convincing argument and an attempt to adopt the moral (welfare) high ground? Furthermore, could it be a perfect way to mask the shortcoming of incubation systems that cannot provide the correct environment for every single developing embryo?

This is the predictable, cynical and conspiratorial reaction that will, of course, be dispensed by all those who either do not manufacture Early Feeding systems or cannot integrate such systems into their operation without major upheaval and expense.

How does one plot a course through this ‘Early Feeding’ minefield to arrive at a balanced opinion – if that is even possible? For example, scientific papers, as we all know, can be economical with the facts to support those who have commissioned the report. Cynical again, yes, but sadly often true.

We at EmTech take a pragmatic approach, the proof of success for any new system will inevitably be the commercial hatchery results, especially of trials comparing the same, or similar, flocks over a significant time period. If those who adopt Early Feeding regularly attain significant results at kill with more, and better, quality birds that attain their target weight ahead of the traditional reared birds, then we will all be convinced. The industry will adopt this practice wholesale and every other incubator manufacturer and producer will have to catch up.

The welfare argument, however, is less easy to quantify and an emotive topic that easily engenders fearful overreaction, especially from supermarkets and commercial food retailers. Again, EmTech can only take the pragmatic standpoint and see with our own eyes if the chicks seem malnourished or dehydrated when they reach the farm. This is not difficult to assess.

Mortality rates, we feel, are probably a better benchmark to compare welfare and performance of EmTech Incubators against birds that have been subjected to Early Feeding systems. Early indications show that early fed birds do not fare so well on farm with a mortality rate at kill of between 4-6%, whereas the EmTech Effect mortality rate at kill averages 2.8%. These early results are by no means conclusive but does bear out what many studies conclude that if the earliest hatched chicks start on feed and water 24 hours, or more, prior to the last chicks to hatch, the growth trajectory to kill would likely be the same as if chicks are initially withheld feed. Indeed, our results seem to indicate that the imbalance caused by chicks that begin to feed immediately may upset the genetic predisposition of precocial bird species to synchronise emergence. This not only prevents uniformity in flocks from the very start, but in an industry where uniformity is key, it is widely accepted that chicks that are not uniform can encounter problems and are less able to...

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Ken Baker

Ken Baker

Managing Director, Emtech Hatchery Systems Limited

As Managing Director, Ken oversees the entire performance of EmTech. Ken spearheads our vision of ensuring that all our clients receive not only the highest quality equipment but also the best results. en Baker, EmTech’s Managing Director, and Mike Osmond, EmTech’s Operations Director, began their journey in the incubation business with Buckeye, based in Lopen, UK, and then later with ChickMaster in Bridgwater. Ken joined the incubation business in 1992 and he soon played crucial part in taking incubator control systems into the digital age. Mike goes back further, managing the logistics of incubator shipping and the spare parts business for many years. John Russell, now looking after EmTech’s Sales and Business Development, from the early 1990’s was Buckeye’s Joint owner and Managing Director, and was instrumental in growing the incubation business and forming very successful trading relationships around the world. Sophisticated plc based control systems, stainless steel hatchers, hatchery monitoring and alarms, and 36 trolley setters were a few of the innovations that John, Ken and Mike helped bring to the industry. Ken, latterly, was also influential in development of reverse paddle fan and variable speed technology and crucially, the design of hatchery heat recovery systems, in particular the innovative stand alone ventilation systems. In 2015 Ken Baker and Mike Osmond launched EmTech Hatchery Systems, based, ironically, back where it all started in the same premises, albeit now completely modernised, that Buckeye had occupied at the beginning of their careers. It was fitting that this should be the case as both Ken and Mike had always retained a belief that by combining some of the older concepts with the latest technological advances, it could form an excellent platform from which to create a brand new range of incubators. The result, after a great deal of hard work and an unyielding belief in their vision and abilities, is a brand new range of incubation and ventilation systems that could only be achieved in the most experienced of hands. These new systems were trialled in hatcheries in the UK and very soon their performance and functionality became the talk of the industry. A leading independent UK company was happy to make known that EmTech’s systems were showing up to 3% increase in performance alongside similar equipment from other manufacturers. Due to the >EmTech Effect< within a very short time EmTech’s business and sales was gathering momentum with sales in USA, Australasia, Europe and Asia for their Single and Multi-stage incubators, ventilation systems, competitively priced spare parts and smaller incubators.

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