The importance of optimal early life conditions of broilers to sustain efficient and healthy production of broiler meat is increasingly recognized. Therefore, novel husbandry systems are developed, in which immediate provision of nutrition post hatch is combined with on-farm hatching. In these novel systems, 1-day-old-chick handling and transport are minimized. To study whether early nutrition and reduced transport are beneficial for broiler performance and behavior, the effects of early or delayed nutrition and post-hatch handling and transport were tested from hatch until 35 d of age, in a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement. In total, 960 eggs were hatched in 36 floor pens. After hatch, chicks were given immediate access to water and feed (early nutrition) or after 54 h (delayed nutrition). Eighteen hours after hatch, chicks remained in their pens (non-transported control), or were subjected to short-term handling and transport to simulate conventional procedures. Subsequently, chicks returned to their pens. Compared with delayed-fed chickens, early-fed chickens had greater body weight up to 21 d of age, but not at slaughter (35 d of age). No effects of transport or its interaction with moment of first nutrition were found on performance. At 3 d post hatch, transported, early-fed chicks had a greater latency to stand up in a tonic immobility test than transported, delayed-fed chicks, but only in chicks that were transported. At 30 d post hatch, however, latency was greater in transported, delayed-fed chickens than in transported, early-fed chicks. This may indicate long-term deleterious effects of delayed nutrition on fear response in transported chickens. It is concluded that early nutrition has mainly beneficial effects on performance during the first 2 wk post hatch, but these beneficial effects are less evident in later life. The combination of transport and early nutrition may influence the chicken's strategies to cope with stressful events in early and later life.
- early nutrition
- production performance