SmartStart™ | Early feeding system

Conventionally, chicks have no access to food or water until reaching farms. In the hatchery, tens of thousands of eggs are incubated together for a three week period. Most chicks hatch within a few hours of each other, but some hatch earlier. The international nature of the poultry industry also means that chicks are shipped long distances. In the instance of early hatchers being shipped internationally, they may have to go without feed or water for days. In order to solve this problem, we led a collaborative project in partnership with Pas Reform, DSM Twilmij and Philips NatureDynamics to develop SmartStart™, now available for use in Pas Reform incubators.

During development chick embryos utilise the yolk of their egg as a nutritional resource. This is not exhausted prior to hatching which enables the remaining yolk, now the “yolk sac” to be continued to be used by the newly hatched chick. Although this nutritional reserve enables chicks to survive days without food and water, providing these as early as possible kick starts their digestive tract, immune system, and crucially, allows for happier and healthier chicks.

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Our solution for this problem required overcoming a number of technical considerations. Firstly, the solution had to be able to be retrofitted into existing hatchery infrastructure and therefore could involve no running water. As sitting water in incubators is a huge contamination risk, we utilised NADES technology, a technique extensively studied by Leiden University, to hold water in a proprietary feed mix. Our partners at DSM Twilmij now produce this feed at the scales required for SmartStart™ hatchery systems and it is the only feed on the market able to meet both the nutritional and hydration requirements for new chicks.

The next challenge was that of lighting. We found out chicks love SmartStart™ feed, but unless they can see it, they won’t eat it. This poses a technical problem because hatcher incubators are conventionally dark. True to our retrofitting considerations, we worked with Philips to provide a natural lighting setup that can be early fitted into existing incubators without compromising key factors such as cleanability and storage capacity. Additionally, the tunable and programmable nature of this lighting system could prove extremely useful for incubation optimisation. The role of light in the development and regulation of the circadian rhythm of all animals is know, but the understanding and application of this to egg incubation is in its infancy. As the understanding of this field increases, the lighting wavelength and rhythms of light can be modified to match.

This project represents a huge milestone for In Ovo. For the first time, we can point to our hard work leading to tangible improvements in animal welfare in the poultry sector. Showcasing our ambition to provide innovative solutions that not only increase animal welfare, but also impact positively on output.

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