Vencomatic Group: How to reduce antibiotics in broiler production?
There is an increased awareness on the need for the sensible use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock production. When looking at broiler production, the use of antibiotics has traditionally been, and today still is, the highest in the first week of life (Data from Dutch broiler flocks, see graph 1). How could we explain the relative high use of antibiotics in the first week? What are conditions leading to a high use, and, more importantly: are there possibilities to reduce the antibiotics use?
Graph 1: Broiler age in weeks at antibiotics treatment per year in the Netherlands, in percentage of treatment days. Source: Avined 2016.
The first 48h of a broilers' life
Although a good start of broiler chicks is considered crucial to good broiler health, it can be questioned whether current incubation systems and hatchery management procedures meet the young chicks' requirements. This is due to 3 important factors:
1) Delayed feed and water access - Chicks hatch over a time window of approximately 24-36 hours and are removed from the hatchers only when the majority of the chicks has hatched. Especially for early hatching chicks, this practice leads to delay in the moment of placement in the farm, and thus in moment of first feed and water intake. The delay in feed and water access may mount up to over 50 hours, which is associated to chick weight loss in the early post hatch period. Graph 2shows the weight loss of newly hatched broiler that hatched at different time points of the hatching window. Apart from early weight loss, delaying the first feed and water intake depresses growth up to slaughter age.
Graph 2: Weight loss of newly-hatched broiler chicks that hatched early (at 468h of incubation), midterm (at 483 h of incubation) or late (at 498h of incubation), while they are waiting inside the hatcher for chick pulling at 515 h of incubation (day 0). Adapted from: Van de Ven, LJF, 2012. Dissertation: Effects of hatching time and hatching system on broiler chick development.
And maybe even more important, delayed feed and water access leads to decreased development of the gastrointestinal tract, impaired immune functioning, and capacity to withstand cold exposure.
2) Hatching and brooding environment - Environmental conditions in the hatcher do not seem to match the hatchlings' requirements. In the last phase of incubation, broiler hatching eggs, and newly hatched chicks produce considerable amounts of heat. Overheating is prevented by using high air velocities. However, large amounts of airborne fluff and dust are generated during hatching, which was previously found to be one of the primary sources for Salmonella contamination of broilers. High air velocities in the hatcher carry the dust generated during hatch along with pathogens that may be present on or inside the eggs and recirculate them throughout the hatching cabinet during the last 2 d of incubation.
3) Chick handling and transportation–In larger scale hatcheries, up to 300,000 day old chicks may be processed over the same separators, conveyor belts, chick counting machines etc. Contamination of chicks can occur by pathogens that may be found on surfaces of chick handling equipment and/or people. Furthermore, transportation is considered one of the most stressful events in animals' lives. Since stress makes birds susceptible to diseases, transportation is always a risk factor that should be minimized.
It can be questioned whether the hatchlings' requirements can be met in current hatchery practice.
An alternative to traditional hatchery practice and related impacts on the broilers health, is to combine the hatching and brooding phase. Since 2004, Vencomatic Group has been working on the development of on-farm hatching systems. After 18 days of incubation in a conventional hatchery, apparently fertile eggs are transported to the farm for the last 3 days of incubation. After hatching, chicks remain in the house during their growing period. Thus, for these chicks hatchery treatments such as counting, packaging and transportation are omitted and chicks have immediate post hatch access to feed and water. Also, hatching conditions differ considerably from those found in a typical hatcher, e.g. with lower temperature, relative humidity, air velocity, and a larger volume of air per egg. For the newly hatched chick, conditions in on-farmhatching systems mimic those recommended by the breeding companies.
The differences in environmental conditions are summarized in table 1.
Table 1. Summary of different conditions during hatching in a hatcher or in on-farm hatching systems.
It is probably a combination of these 3 factors: 1) direct feed/water access, 2) absence of chick handling and transportation, and 3) improved environmental conditions during hatching and the early post-hatch period, that provides the start for producing healthy broilers. It allows farmers using on-farm hatching systems to reduce antibiotics use by over 50%.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Vencomatic Group