When incubation is an Art

Tags: Hatchery management | Blog

Written by Martin Barten, 4 November 2010

When incubation is an Art

At a site visit recently, I met an exceptional manager - and a hatchery operation that is probably the finest example of how to gain maximum results in modern poultry business that I have seen in many years.

As part of a large poultry meat supplier in Western Europe, this hatchery was newly installed with incubators and hatchers, and a complete hatchery automation system with transfer/candling and climate control, in 2004.
The hatchery stands out for its consistent and exceptionally high hatchability. During the last two years, the hatchery manager and his team have achieved an average hatch of fertile eggs of 96 per cent. These figures are based on eggs from 12 different breeder flocks - and remain consistent throughout the year. Chick quality is excellent, with mortality always below 0.5 per cent over the first seven days. 
Naturally I wanted to understand the secret of the hatchery managers’ outstanding results! Of course, with the benefit of a newly designed hatchery, deploying the very latest technologies – the hatchery could expect good results. But compare this to having an excellent car: it is the driver that makes the tour a success. 
Likewise, much of the extraordinary success of this hatchery is due to the people who manage it. 
Yet during the past four years, I have visited the plant many times. And the truth is that this hatchery manager does not appear to employ any mysterious or unorthodox management practices. The company’s success seems based simply on the fact that hatchery personnel here work according to a couple of very ordinary ‘rules of thumb’, concerning hygiene and the strict follow-up of all processes and procedures. 
But then, perhaps this hatchery managers’ approach is the magic ingredient. For as the owner of the company, he has a real passion and devotion for the profession of hatchery manager. ‘Infertile’ and unhatched eggs are recorded and analysed as standard practice. And this manager puts the information he gathers with every hatch to very good use, to directly and tangibly improve hatchability and the quality of the chicks. 
For example, on noticing that the chicks seemed listless on collection – and suspecting they may be suffering from insufficient oxygen – he adjusted the ventilation in the hatcher to allow a slightly higher intake. After several hatching cycles - and some fine-tuning - he found the optimum ventilation programme for his specific situation, confirmed and rewarded by the excellent quality of the chicks. 
This hatchery manager observes what is going on in his hatchery. He speaks with his team daily, reviewing results and visiting every part of the plant. Because he communicates with every party he works with, every party willingly communicates with him. Broiler growers fill out daily reports on the number of chicks dying during the first week of life. In the event that mortality trends seem unusual, possible causes or actions are immediately discussed with all the parties involved. Similar agreements exist with suppliers, including those of the hatching eggs, feed producers – right the way through the production chain. When our observant hatchery manager noticed that the chicks’ legs were a little short, veterinary examination showed that the chicks also had deformed breastbones. Discussion with the feed supplier identified a small deficiency of manganese. Short lines of communication enable rapid recovery, which benefits everyone in the chain.
The hatchery manager’s role is a busy and demanding one. So often, I see that they either do not have the time - or perhaps lack the ambition – to leave their desks and go check on progress and results in the plant. Yet by following processes - actually using the results from analyses of unhatched eggs and chick quality, to fine-tune incubation programmes and management methods – the results speak for themselves. And practical knowledge is a prerequisite for constructive discussions and resolution throughout the production chain. 
For a skilful employee whose key responsibility is to continuously monitor procedures and improve results, let’s assume an annual salary of €30.000. Take the day old chick price of €0.25.

A simple calculation:
€ 30,000 / € 0,25 = 120.000 day old chicks is the yearly quantity needed to counterbalance salary costs. For a medium sized hatchery of 14 million chicks per year, such as this particular plant, hatchability must be increased by 14,000,000 / 120,000 x 100 = 0.85% to make good sense of employing this one person.

“Lack of time” is never a good enough reason for not paying this kind of attention to active hatchery management! As we can see, the increased percentage of fertiles hatched easily justifies the employment of a skilled, conscientious hatchery management professional - who allows for more time spent in his working day to actively monitor and improve results.

Written by Martin Barten

Senior Hatchery Specialist

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