Embryo temperature during incubation: practice and theory

A. Lourens

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


(Key words: incubation, embryo temperature, embryonic development, heat production, heat loss)

Until recently, all incubator studies were performed using a constant machine temperature (MT). But it is embryo temperature (ET) that is of importance to the embryo, and not MT. In practice, MT is often measured at one location within the incubator, while ET can vary between eggs within an incubator. Furthermore, ET is the result of the balance between heat production (HP) and heat loss, and if HP or heat loss is affected it may have consequences for ET. Aim of this dissertation was to identify the causes of variable ET and to describe the consequences of variable ET on embryonic development, hatchability, HP and chick quality. Because the direct measurement of ET is destructive, it was chosen in this dissertation to use eggshell temperature (EST) measurements as a reflection of ET.
Long term deviations of 1.1ºC away from a constant EST of 37.8ºC decreased embryonic growth, development, hatchability, and the ability of young chicks to maintain high body temperatures after hatching, especially under cold stress. HP was considered to be positively related to embryonic development, because when more energy is used for growth, HP during incubation will increase and chicks will subsequently hatch with a larger yolk free body and with a lower amount of energy left over in the residual yolk. Within the EST zone of 1.0ºC below and above 37.8ºC it was observed that HP increased linearly with short term EST increments, and the response of the embryos to EST variations was identical in young, mid term and late term embryos. Maximizing HP based on metabolic responses to EST fluctuations will therefore increase EST above the studied EST zone, leading to decreased embryonic growth and increased embryonic mortality. High EST increases the demand for oxygen, so oxygen availability was expected to limit HP and embryonic growth more at higher EST profiles than at EST of 37.8ºC. However, despite the fact that HP at day 18 was highest for the combination of high EST with high oxygen concentration, embryonic development did not show the same relationship. At EST above 37.8ºC, the amount of energy utilized from the egg content remained the same, but the efficiency of energy transfer (EYFB) between egg and embryo decreased. Factors as egg size, breed, and oxygen availability affected HP through changes in energy utilization, and had no effect on EYFB.
In this thesis, the importance was shown to measure and control ET during incubation and not MT. Factors were identified that affect ET through changes in HP and heat loss. When ET is controlled and maintained at a constant level of 37.8ºC, embryonic development may be improved by measures that increase energy utilization through increments in gas exchange, which will increase HP.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Kemp, Bas, Promotor
  • van den Brand, Henry, Co-promotor
  • Meijerhof, R., Co-promotor, External person
Award date19 Dec 2008
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789085852582
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • chicks
  • embryos
  • temperature
  • incubation
  • embryonic development
  • heat production
  • heat loss
  • egg shell
  • incubators
  • poultry farming


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