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Principles of single-stage incubation (5)

Part 5: The Future The series ‘Principles of single-stage incubation’ has come to an end. The most important incubation parameters have been discussed to strive for optimal performance of a single-stage hatchery. At this stage, we will take a look at the future potential of single-stage incubation.

Roger Banwell, Hatchery Development Manager, Petersime NV

Incubation

Historically, incubation was never considered to play a major role in the production chain, primarily because of the lack of flexibility with multi-stage incubation. Meanwhile, this attitude is already being dismissed by forward thinking producers and incubation is being recognised as a critical part of the process.

It has been suggested that the current equipment can achieve results that offer little room for improvement. However, when considering the future one should not think within the current limitations. One of the first questions to be asked is, are we at or near the point at which we are achieving the maximum possible results?

The current approach of incubation is sensing from a mass or a sample within a mass of eggs and producing a controlled but general environmental condition for that egg mass. Perhaps the ultimate goal should be to consider the signals generated by the individual eggs and subsequently produce the specific micro climate each egg requires.

As technology and our knowledge progresses, specific signals can be read beyond today’s thermal and gas levels. As we widen the spectrum of key biological events, chemical reactions and compounds can be detected, identified and/or controlled. Progress in engineering solutions will enable levels of physical control and handling far beyond what is seen today.

All of these factors ensure that the short, medium and long-term future of incubation still has a long way to go. As our knowledge grows, new and future technologies become commercially affordable and engineering finds more innovative solutions. Therefore incubation will continue to strive and move towards achieving the highest degree of genetic potential at the greatest level of consistency.

As our understanding of the natural process grows, our ability to replicate the positive interactions between parent bird, environment and the fertile egg increases. Furthermore we are able to avoid any of the negative events that occur during the natural process: predatory stress, extreme weather conditions etc.

With any parental distraction, stresses and/or environmental extremes eliminated, we can become effectively the ‘ideal parent’.

Optimum productivity

Perhaps the first and most obvious statement that should have been made at the beginning of this article is, you can no longer look at incubation or any element within the production chain in isolation. There may be debate around differing approaches. But I would like to think it’s now well and truly proven that the only true way of achieving optimum final performance is to assess all elements of the process with respect to their complex, yet undeniable interaction.

The industry is changing rapidly. Below is an image taken from a presentation I gave in 2004. At the time it was considered a rather fanciful approach, yet now I find it a popular topic of conversation.

To make this approach truly work, all players will need to work together: Academia, breeders, nutritionists, incubationists, commercial manufacturers etc. If this is achieved, the potential is far beyond what we see today.

Environment

The effect we have on our environment will always be an important topic and a major consideration for incubation design and operation. Efficient energy usage, zero emissions and environmentally friendly practices are important topics. Heat recovery, energy savings, minimising water consumption, controlled ventilation, ease of cleaning, eliminating/reducing the use of chemicals etc. These elements are all currently prioritised within all Petersime’s product designs.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare is a topic that is rightly growing in importance and cannot be underestimated. All parties need to be conscious about animal welfare. From egg production through to farm management, animal welfare should be paramount. This requires good management, personnel training and good quality and well maintained equipment/facilities.

Incubation plays a major role in animal welfare. Ensuring optimum embryonic development and growth along with creating ideal hatching conditions and stimuli are of vital importance. Once hatched, the chicks should be held in perfect environmental conditions and the optimum point of access to feed and water should be ensured.

Summary

The changes in the poultry production industry over recent years have been immense. We only need to look back 20 or 30 years to see the growth of the large fully integrated producers and the transition from the inflexible multi-stage methodology to the fully flexible single-stage system. Along with this, our understanding and knowledge has not only grown but the ability to apply this in the commercial application has been the driving force of incubation design and operation.

Factors as the environment and animal welfare gain in importance while one strives to optimize productivity along the whole production chain. To predict where we will be in the next 10 or 20 years is difficult, not because we are short on ideas but because the possibilities are immense.