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Hatchery Management

Managing a hatchery effectively requires a lot of effort by the hatchery manager and the staff. In order to attain the highest level of chick quality, it is important to understand and adhere to some basic principles of hatchery management. Following are a list of basic principles that when followed can make life easier and more productive for the manager and staff within the hatchery. Please also refer to hatching egg care.

Biosecurity and hygiene
Biosecurity is of paramount importance to any poultry operation, especially breeding farms and hatcheries. The following suggestions should be implemented at any hatchery, especially hatcheries dealing with breeder chicks.

  • All equipment entering the hatchery must be cleaned and disinfected (or fumigated).
  • Staff and visitors must shower and change into clean clothing that is provided by the hatchery.
  • Incoming air should be filtered, and the ventilation should create a positive pressure environment with single direction flows.

Egg handling, identification, and storage
Egg handling and storage both have a direct impact on profitability as good handling and storage procedures will help increase hatchability.

  • Eggs need to be collected regularly from the breeder farms.
  • Even if eggs are collected daily from farms, it is important that they are kept in an appropriate environment to avoid decrease in hatchability.
  • Eggs must be collected in dedicated, clean, trucks with capability to keep eggs in an appropriate environment. Measures to avoid egg damage should be a priority.
  • Eggs should be clean and be sanitized as soon as possible after collection from the nest box area.
  • Eggs arriving in the hatchery must be clearly marked so as to prevent incorrect settings. Each trolley or pallet must have the flock of origin and date of lay clearly marked.

Incubation
Setters
The following rules should be followed whether single- or multi-stage setters are used.

  • Always set eggs in rotation, avoid excessive egg age.
  • Try to set eggs of similar age flocks together.
  • Set eggs earlier from young or old flocks.
  • Pre-warm eggs to 25°C (77°F) for 8 to 12 hours prior to setting.
  • Ideally, eggs should be set between 3 and 7 days after they were laid.
  • Increase incubation time by 1 hour for each day of storage beyond 10 days.
  • Setters should be washed and disinfected after each use. While this is easy for single-stage, procedures must be adopted in multi-stage machines to ensure regular cleaning and disinfection.

Hatchers

  • Hatchers should be pre-warmed prior to the eggs being transferred from the setters.
  • Formalin or an alternative disinfecting fogging agent should be placed in the hatcher just prior to piping.
  • It is important that dirty air cannot cycle through the hatchers. Care must be taken to ensure that exhausted (dirty) air is not drawn back into the hatchery.
  • Hatchers should be closely monitored, although modern hatchers can be programmed to adjust the internal climate to optimize the hatch. There is no substitute for human monitoring during the hatch process. Necessary adjustments should be made as the hatch window approaches and during the hatch process to maximize the quantity and quality of the chicks.
  • Cleaning and disinfection following removal of the chicks is vital for maintaining future chick quality.

Cleaning and disinfection
Cleaning and disinfection are a vital aspect of any hatchery. A clean, sanitary hatchery will decrease spread of disease between hatches and help ensure a higher level of chick quality.

  • Written procedures and internal monitoring systems should be adopted.
  • Regular hygiene audits should be carried out to ensure that correct cleaning and disinfection is taking place.
  • Audits of incoming eggs should also be done to monitor the breeder farms. These checks should cover both physical egg quality and bacterial load.
  • The use of an external auditor is recommended. These audits should be carried out at regular intervals.
  • It is important that all working in the chick production process, including the breeder farm manager are kept fully informed as to the status of performance and hygiene levels within the hatchery and act quickly on any findings and recommendations.

Chick processing and vaccination
During chick processing and vaccination, the hatchery is able to perform quality control and help set the chick up for a healthy, productive life.

  • Chicks should be sexed as soon as possible after being removed from the hatchers.
  • Correct vaccine preparation is required. Care should be taken to follow the vaccine supplier's recommendations.
  • Vaccine should be prepared as required and used promptly. Strict sanitation procedures should be in place to ensure no contamination of vaccines or diluents.

Record keeping
Accurate records are an important tool for all hatcheries, as this will give supply farms, hatchery management, and customers confidence in the traceability of the chicks.

  • Records should be maintained from the time eggs are collected on the farm to the time chicks reach their final destination.
  • Routine egg breakouts should be carried out to monitor hatchery performance.
  • Communication of hatch results to the breeder farm is important so the breeder farm can investigate changes in hatchability or fertility.
  • The performance of individual incubators should be monitored and any variations investigated.
  • Individual flock records should be kept and any deviation from normal results should be investigated.

Maintenance and servicing of equipment
Regular maintenance of all equipment is crucial for continuity of operation and for obtaining the best product possible. All mechanical items used within the hatchery should have a program of regular maintenance. The documentation of maintenance helps in the identification of trends and issues with individual pieces of equipment. The constant calibration and monitoring of all setters and hatchers is extra important as small changes in temperature can affect the quality of the chick.

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