On the 15th January, we had the opportunity to join the agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP AGRI) focus group on Reducing the use of antimicrobials in poultry farming for their visit to the Experimental Poultry Research Centre of the Province of Antwerp in Flanders.
The EIP focus group is a gathering of various poultry experts from across Europe with various expertise from farming, veterinary, industry, research and policy backgrounds to discuss challenges and opportunities to stimulate the transition towards more prudent use of antibiotics in poultry farming. Their visit to the experimental center was organized alongside their second focus group meeting.
An afternoon symposium was organized for the group during which the DISARM network was promoted. The main topic of the symposium was focused on the revolutionary technique of on-farm hatching of broiler chicks. This innovative practice improves the health, development and welfare of the chicks since the stressful post-hatching period and processing in the hatchery is being cut out of the production process. The day-old chicks hatched on the farm can have direct access to feed and water and do not have to be transported from the hatchery to the broiler farm. The direct access to feed and water and reduced stress from handling the chicks and transport results in a better early life start with better gut development as well as potentially improved immune development.
Several commercial companies offer solutions for on-farm hatching already and were all briefly introduced during the symposium. The NestBorn concept was however the focus of the afternoon. This concept stands out to the other offered solutions because of its simplicity. The hatchery takes care of placing the 18-days incubated eggs into a thicker layer of bedding material in a pre-heated barn by means of a specially designed and automated egg placing machine.
Consequently, the hatching process is being monitored with ovoscan sensors measuring the egg shell temperature in real-time so that both farmer and hatchery have insight and control over the hatching process. As soon as the chicks start to hatch the system offers the benefits of the on-farm hatching.
The system is remarkably flexible since it requires no investment costs from the poultry farmer. This also makes it possible to switch back to stocking conventionally hatched day-old chicks. The only point of attention is to be able to squeeze the three additional days of hatching into the downtime between production cycles without hampering effective cleaning and disinfection and to closely monitor the climate of the broiler barn in the pre-hatching period. Extra heating cost for the hatching period should be recoverable with savings on medicine use and less problem solving later on in the production cycle. Data from the poultry veterinary practice DEGUDAP guiding the farmers that have adopted the NestBorn concept, showed reductions in the use of antibiotics of 50 to 62%. Moreover improvements in feed conversion of 2 to 4 points have been observed as well on commercial farms.
To conclude the symposium the testimony of the early adopter poultry farmer Gerard Witlox emphasized the practical benefits of the system and positive effect on his work, joy and satisfaction because of less troublesome production cycles with healthier and more vital chicks. He has been using on-farm hatching for 2 years now and he considers it as the most significant innovation in broiler production for the past 30 years.
The NestBorn system and the egg placing machine are patented and their use is only allowed under a licencing agreement with HFHC nv, the NestBorn company.