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Chick Checking and Incubation Improvement Part 4: Chick Activity and Behaviour

25 October 2016

A well-experienced hatchery manager will instinctively know when he is looking at healthy, active chicks with good levels of reactions and response to stimuli, writes Frank Verschuere, Hatchery Development Department, Petersime NV.

Making observations is something that can be learnt with practice over time. We describe the key guidelines to make observational assessments considering chick activity and behaviour.

In the series of articles about ‘Chick quality assessment and incubation optimisation’, activity and behaviour are by far the most subjective parameters and are therefore difficult to quantify within a written document. However, in this article, we will give some concrete tips to help you assess chick quality.

Initial observations during the hatching process

It is a good practice to briefly observe the hatching and hatched chicks inside the hatcher. This initial observation should be performed with a minimal amount of lighting.

During this stage, the chicks should have relaxed breathing. Any sign of gasping chicks could indicate that temperature is too high and/or that ventilation is insufficient inside the hatcher.

It is important to observe the spread of the chicks in the baskets. The optimal scenario is when the chicks are evenly spread in the baskets. When the chicks are gathering to the inside or outside of the baskets, this usually indicates suboptimal conditions and the temperature and/or ventilation programme may require adjustments.

Response to stimuli during the hatching process

You should observe the reaction to light of the chicks that have already recovered and of the chicks that are still recovering from the hatching process. This is ideally done by means of a torch. Otherwise, the light of the hatcher can be used.

When you stimulate a recovered chick with light in the hatcher, you should observe an immediate response and movement, indicating good alertness and activity. A newly born chick needs a recovery period before it becomes active and alert, since the energy levels are depleted.

In nature, you can also see this behaviour. The day-old chick will stay under the mother hen for recovery. Only when all the chicks of the nest have recovered and the parent bird is ready, they will start to look for food and water and become active.

  

Chick that is recovering

 

Chick that is active and alert

Importance of the hatch window

The hatch window is crucial when investigating chick quality. When there is a wide hatch window, the late hatchlings might still be recovering during take-off, which will negatively influence the chick quality.

A narrow hatch window furthermore ensures that all the chicks have access to feed and water at the optimal moment. To ensure the welfare of the chicks, the hatch window and optimal moment for access to feed and water should be based on observations from nature and on recreating the conditions as seen in their natural environment. This leads to optimal post-hatch performance of the birds.

In today’s modern commercial hatchery, it is key to focus on a narrow hatch window to ensure good uniformity and to achieve the optimal conditions for all the chicks at the correct moment.

A narrow hatch window is not only achieved by good incubation conditions, other variables play a role as well.

Good farm management, uniform egg quality and good hatchery management practices, such as balanced setting and regular maintenance, all play a part. Our team of hatchery experts is happy to assist in each area to optimise your hatchery performance.

Activity and behaviour during take-off

As the trolleys with the baskets are removed from the hatcher during the final processing, there are key elements to observe. The chicks in general should be evenly spread in the baskets, as should be the case in the hatcher. The chicks should also be active and alert.

This can be tested individually: when the chick is turned gently on his back, it should turn over in less than three seconds. If you make movements with your fingers above the baskets and the chicks react fast to this stimulant, this is another good indication.

Chicks are active and responsive to movement

Chicks are not active when stimulated

Chick holding and chick transport

Chick holding and chick transport may not seem specifically relevant to ‘chick quality assessment and incubation optimisation’. But still, it is critical to ensure that all the good work that is done during incubation and chick take-off is not ruined in the following processes.

It is important to maintain good chick holding and transport conditions to make sure the chicks are comfortable and to ensure a good chick quality.

Summary

Activity and behaviour are an important aspect of chick quality. The spread inside the hatcher baskets; the response to stimuli in the hatcher and during take-off; chick holding and transport conditions are all important elements in optimising chick quality.

It is also key to focus on a narrow hatch window to ensure good uniformity and good post-hatch performance.



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