Hatcheries, broilers & layers
Hatcheries serve as the key link between chicken breeding and chicken production. Because virtually all chickens grown for meat and egg production are hybrids, their progeny will lose hybrid vigour. This means specialised farms are used to maintain lines of genetically pure breeds that are used as parent, grandparents, or even great-grandparent stocks for the eventual production breeds.
Chicken breeds: broilers vs layers
Although the layer chickens are bred for eggs and broiler breeds are bred for meat, the process from breeder farm to hatchery is identical. Fertilised eggs collected from parent flocks on breeding farms are collected and delivered to hatcheries. Here, eggs can be stored in a controlled environment for up to a few weeks. The fertilised eggs are incubated for 21 days. At this point, the eggs have all been hatched from, and the resultant chicks are removed from the incubators.
For broilers, once removed from the incubator, chicks are dispatched to farms where they are grown for about seven weeks before being slaughtered.
The problem with male layers
Layers are sexed upon hatch, the males are killed and the females are dispatched to special farms whilst they mature to egg laying age. After about four weeks the hens will be ready to lay eggs and will continue to do so for about fifteen months.
Conventionally, chicks have no access to feed or water until reaching the farm. 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.