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On-farm hatching systems for broiler chicks are increasingly used in practice. We studied whether or not performance, health and welfare aspects differed between commercial flocks hatched on-farm or in a hatchery (control). In two successive production cycles on seven farms, a total of 16 on-farm hatched flocks were paired to 16 control flocks, housed at the same farm. Paired flocks originated from the same batch of eggs and were subjected to similar on-farm management. On-farm hatched and control flocks only differed with respect to hatching conditions, with on-farm hatched flocks not being exposed to, for example, chick handling, post-hatch feed and water deprivation and transport, in contrast to control flocks that were subjected to standard hatchery procedures, subsequently transported and placed in the poultry house. Day-old chick quality (navel and hock scores), 1st week mortality, total mortality, BW at day (d) 0, d7 and at depopulation, and (total) feed conversion ratio were determined. Prevalence of footpad dermatitis, hock burn, breast discoloration/blisters and cleanliness, litter quality and gait score were determined at d21 of age and around depopulation (d39 on average). Gross pathology and gut morphology were examined at depopulation age in a sample of birds of five flocks per treatment. On-farm hatching resulted in a higher BW at d0 (=5.4 g) and d7 (=11.5 g) (P<0.001), but day-old chick quality as measured by navel (P=0.003) and hock (P=0.01) quality was worse for on-farm hatched compared to control birds. Body weight, 1st week and total mortality, and feed conversion ratio at slaughter age were similar for both on-farm hatched and control flocks. On-farm hatched flocks had less footpad dermatitis (P=0.05), which indicated a better welfare. This was likely related to a tendency for better litter quality in on-farm hatched flocks at 21 days of age in comparison to control flocks (P=0.08). No major differences in gross pathology or in intestinal morphology at depopulation age were found between treatments. In conclusion, on-farm hatching resulted in better 1st week broiler performance and better welfare compared to conventional hatching in a hatchery.
- early feeding
- on-farm hatching
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