Post hatch feeding made easy, practical and flexible
A unique partnership between a hatchery expert, biotech start-up and premix company has led to a game changing post-hatch feeding product: SmartStart™
Aiming for the shortest possible spread of hatch remains paramount in single stage incubation. A sub-optimal hatch window can lead to chicks having to wait a long time before having access to feed and water. To promote the welfare of day old chicks in situations with prolonged hatch windows, there is growing demand for flexible solutions that offer the freedom to access feed and water immediately upon hatching. But inside the warm environment of a hatcher, open water systems are prone to contamination and the cultivation of bacteria. An innovative new idea, developed by a consortium of three companies, has created a smart, practical concept that locks the water inside a semi-moist feed. It is a solution easily applied without modification to existing hatchers, to give the youngest chicks a perfect start.
Hatching is a fine art and Pas Reform, the Dutch supplier of integrated hatchery solutions, has fine-tuned this skill over the last ten decades. But the hatching of chicks entails more than having the right hatchery equipment, the right climate conditions and an optimised hatch window. The concept of post-hatch feeding is attracting the interest of poultry producers around the world, as animal welfare organisations in some areas demand that chicks (and farm animals in general) should have access to feed and water as soon as they are born. Common practice is to supply feed and water as soon as chicks arrive at the farm. Feeding (gels or semi-moist feed) during transport is typical for day old parent- and grandparent breeding stock, because they often have to travel long distances. “Before the chicks are transported, access to feed and water may be required not only from a welfare perspective and because some of our customers are increasingly keen on this practice, but also for the overall development of the day old chick. A growing body of research indicates that post-hatch feeding may actually provide a better start for day old chicks”, explains Gerd de Lange, senior poultry specialist at Pas Reform.
Pas Reform’s interest in delving deeper into post-hatch feeding comes from the desire to provide customers with a total hatchery solution. Hatcheries constantly strive to reduce the hatch window, which is normally between 12-24 hours. Maintaining the shortest possible spread of hatch is essential for achieving a uniform batch of day old chicks. However, less than optimum climate control in the hatchery, combined with the fact that hatching eggs are often collected from different sources (breed, flock age, storage time) and thus have different incubation times, can result in longer than ideal hatch windows. When the hatch window is prolonged, the chicks that hatch earliest have to wait a long time in the hatcher basket before being transported and finally gaining access to feed and water. “To promote improved welfare for day-old chicks in situations with prolonged hatch windows, there is evidence to suggest that it is better to give them access to feed and water immediately after hatching”, explains Bouke Hamminga, director International Sales and Business Development at Pas Reform. “Our focus is on providing our customers with total, flexible hatchery solutions across the complete product range - so of course, we are keen to develop an effective solution for customers who wish to use post-hatch feeding.
“This desire has prompted us to seek out the right expertise, to initiate new partnerships with two exciting and innovative Dutch companies, the biotech start-up In Ovo and premix specialist Twilmij”.
Feed and water combined
All three companies involved in the new project agreed that the approach must be to develop a practical, flexible and easy to use solution, that enabled chicks to freely access feed and water as soon as possible in the hatcher. “Some post-hatch feeding systems are already used by the industry, but they often require large investment and intensive adaptations to the incubation systems currently in use.
“We wanted to focus on developing a post-hatch feed that can be used in hatcher baskets, a system that is used the most often around the world”, explains Wouter Bruins, co-founder of In Ovo. Twilmij has a lot of experience with their existing feed formulation After Egg Food, which is used during the transportation of day old chicks. Marien van den Brink, R&D manager and poultry nutritionist at Twilmij explains: “After teaming up, we wanted to investigate possible new products or how we could make our After Egg Food compatible for use in a hatchery. Our feed is a semi-moist, red coloured crumble with a water content of 30% that also contains high quality ingredients and fragrances.
“But water evaporates in the warm conditions (37° Celsius) of a hatchery, especially in combination with high air flow, so our question was whether we could find a method of retaining water in the product while it was exposed to the hatcher environment. This way, a liquid water supply, which is currently offered in alternative post-hatch feeding systems, is not needed. Water in the hatchery is prone to contamination and bacterial growth. This is an extra risk for the small chicks”.
Bruins: “In a quest to find solutions to supply water and feed as a combined product, we came across the work of some biochemical scientists at the Leiden University, in the city where In Ovo is also based”. Dr Choi and his team there are working on deep eutectic solvents (called NADES), which are ingredients from nature, often found in desert plants. They found that a certain combination of solid ingredients mixed together results in a liquid formulation. And more importantly, this mix remains liquid and can trap water, in such a way that it hardly evaporates. “This is really great,” explains Wouter Bruins, “as we saw a clear link between this discovery and post-hatch feeding. We saw an opportunity to find a NADES mix that could be used in animal feed - something that has never been done before - and possibly added to the After Egg Food from Twilmij in order to retain its high water content”.
SmartStart™ as a result
NADES comes in all shapes and sizes and the challenge was to find an optimal combination that is applicable in feed and safe to use. Bruins from In Ovo explains: “Our search resulted in a NADES made of a sugar mixed with small amounts of vitamins and water. It is safe to use in this application and tests have...
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