Aarhus Study Shows Early Feeding Brings Inefficiency

DENMARK - Newly hatched chicks use the 'packed lunch' they bring with them from the egg best if their first meal is postponed, according to research at the University of Aarhus.
calendar icon 16 August 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Small yellow chicks chirping noisily can sound really hungry. Since the farmer's goal with having chicks is to raise them to meaty and juicy broilers in the space of a very short time period, one could very easily be led to believe that the chicks should start eating feed as soon as possible after they have seen the light of day. But is that true?

Is feeding broiler chicks immediately after hatching the best and most efficient solution or is it better to wait a few hours with the first meal? Scientists from Aarhus University have investigated this question. The results showed that it is actually best to wait to offer chicks a meal until they are 36 hours old. That way they utilise their own packed lunch from the egg, consisting of egg yolk and egg white, much more efficiently.

In the study, the scientists divided the chicks into several groups. One group was given a moist feed immediately after hatching. Another group was offered a standard starter feed without added water immediately after hatching. Feeding with the moist and dry feeds, respectively, was repeated in four other groups but with the difference that the chicks had to wait for 12 or 36 hours after hatching before being served.

No differences were found in growth rates, feed efficiency or slaughter quality between the two types of feed. There were, however, differences according to when the feed was offered for the first time.

Fasting chicks were more efficient in the long run

The chicks that had to hold out for 36 hours for their first meal outside of the egg grew more slowly in the first 22 days of their lives than chicks in the other groups. However, they caught up with the others since they managed to reach slaughter weight at 33 days. This means that the fasting chicks have compensatory growth.

The feed efficiency of the chicks that fasted for 36 hours was also better because they reached slaughter weight on less feed than the chicks in the other groups.

Senior scientist, Poul Henckel, from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University, said: "The fact that the chicks use their packed lunch from the egg better when they are fasting is a kind of survival mechanism. Whether it is a solution that can be used on commercial farms remains to be seen because we do not know how mortality rates would be if the chicks had to fast for 36 hours under commercial conditions. It could be interesting to look into, though."

Shortly before slaughter broiler chicks must fast for a few hours. The aim is to cleanse their intestines for bacteria, such as Salmonella. It is normally calculated that the fast reduces broiler weight by approximately 2.5 per cent. In the study, the researchers found that the weight reduction was about five per,cent.

The study was supported by the Poultry Levy Fund, DLG, DanHatch and the Innovation Law under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.

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