Five-year timeline given to Dutch hatcheries to implement early feeding

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages
© GettyImages

Related tags hatching broiler chicks

Hatcheries in the Netherlands will be forced to introduce early feeding after a court found in favor of Dutch animal rights organization, Wakker Dier, as first reported by local newspaper, de Volkskrant.

The ruling followed a lengthy judicial process at the Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal (CBb), located in Utrecht. Wakker Dier started the legal action against the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2014.

The court decision means those newly hatched chicks must receive water and feed within 36 hours, rather than 60 hours, which is standard industry practice in the Netherlands today, where some 500 million broiler chicks are hatched each year.

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In conventional Dutch broiler production, chicks hatch in large incubators in hatcheries, but not all at the same time. There may be days between the first and the last chick to hatch. After all eggs are hatched, the chicks are transported to a poultry farm where they get their first food and water.

Wakker Dier argued that food and water deprivation after hatching has long-term negative consequences for the welfare of chickens, and that the animals’ behavioral and physiological need for food and water are not met in the current hatchery practice. It wanted hatcheries to be forced to provide food and water immediately after hatching.

WUR study 

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned Wageningen University Research (WUR) to provide insight in the effects of feed and water deprivation after hatching on the development, performance, health and welfare of chickens.

Lead on that paper​, Ingrid de Jong, senior scientific researcher, poultry behavior and welfare, WUR, told FeedNavigator the CBb lacked data to take a decision, the court was seeking additional information, particularly data on the welfare implications of feed deprivation.

“We decided to do a meta-analysis, collating all the data that was available in the literature by the end of 2017. That was the basis of our report, we did not do an additional experimental study ourselves.”

“We could only find sufficient data for a meta-analysis related to mortality, yolk sac weight, feed conversion ratio, feed intake and body weight. For all other welfare focused questions such as whether chicks show signs of hunger, what is the effect on the behavior of the chicks, on the immune system, on disease susceptibility, and on the histology of the intestine, there were studies but not enough to perform a meta-analysis.”

For those welfare related indicators, the researchers examined the data from a qualitative perspective to see if they could find any signs of an effect of feed deprivation over certain time periods, she said.

“We found that when feed deprivation exceeds a period of between 36 and 60 hours, there was a significant effect on mortality, an increase in the risk of mortality, and that was the main reason the court ruled that hatcheries should adjust their procedures,”​ said de Jong.

In terms of post-hatch feeding approaches, de Jong referenced two models.

“There are two ways to overcome this issue, either feeding in the hatchery, or a method whereby the eggs, at day 18 of incubation, are transported to broiler farms to let the chicks hatch in the house [using systems like NestBorn, with enables access to feed and water post-hatch].  That is currently not done on many farms, but the regulation might mean this practice will become more commonplace.

“On-farm hatch means that you don’t have to transport the day-old chicks so a lot of farms like that system. Feeding in the hatchery would mean the chicks are kept for longer before transportation to farms, and the hatcheries will have to change their systems to allow such feeding.

“Unfortunately, there is not much research published comparing those two models,” ​added de Jong.

Five-year grace period 

The Dutch court has allowed for a five-year transition period to enable all hatcheries in the country to get up to spec in terms of the infrastructure needed to supply water and feed in the hatchery.

Anton Butijn, from the association for hatcheries in the Netherlands (COBK), said it was that trade group that proposed the five-year transition period to the CBb following extensive consultation with Dutch hatchery companies.

“We expect to solve this challenge within that timeline. Each hatchery will implement this in its own way. The five-year transition period will allow industry to fine-tune newly developed feeding equipment, but it also gives hatcheries that have invested in traditional systems, some only three of four years ago, an acceptable length of time to get a return on that investment," ​he told us. 

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1 comment

Hatchery feeding

Posted by Apeh Omede,

This is an important topic and I was lucky to have the opportunity to look into hatchery feeding in a part of my PhD, developing a potential hatchery/in-tray diet that can serve this purpose. I look forward to seeing how the Dutch hatchery industry handles this. I am happy to share my ideas with anyone interested.

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