Farm hatching that enhances animal welfare

In nature, a bird hatches its eggs in a nest with its own body heat. Where thousands or even millions of birds are needed, a more practical system becomes necessary: building hatcheries that mimic the optimal environment for a fertilised egg in a clean environment, enabling the expansion of both commercial broiler production and layers.

But there are some disadvantages to following this method: eggs tend to hatch within a 60-hour window, and the more vigorous baby-chicks hatch earlier and wait longer before being moved to the farm to have access to food and water. Conversely, baby-chicks that hatch later may not have time to dry out and prepare for their first steps. With this method, the baby-chicks also have a relatively stressful experience because they have to be transported from the hatchery to the farm.

To solve these disadvantages, several companies in recent years have looked at ways to make the hatching process more comfortable for the baby-chicks or to hatch them on the farm without travelling and spending time in incubators. This research has been most evident in the broiler sector, because in this sector it is crucial that the baby-chicks have a good start right from hatching.

A Belgian company has developed a relatively simple on-farm hatching system that requires no additional equipment installed on broiler farms, just a little more organic waste. With this system, fertilised eggs spend their first 18 days (out of 21) in incubators as they did before. The significant change is that on the 18th day, the eggs are transferred to the hatchery and placed on pre-heated clean wood litter where they spend the next 3 days.

Several wireless probes are placed between the eggs that collect real-time data on egg shell temperature, air temperature, relative humidity and CO2, allowing controllers to adjust the environment if necessary.

When the baby-chicks are ready to hatch, each one at its own pace, they only have to peck at the shell and come out, finding themselves already in the shed with plenty of space to roam, dry off, and within a few hours begin to drink, peck, and feed without any stress. They will then be vaccinated directly at the breeding farm.

After the first 3-4 days, the farmer removes the unhatched eggs and from then on everything proceeds as in other broilers.

This new technique also allows for better intestinal development of the baby-chick  ( https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1056617119318860  ), which, combined with the lack of exposure to pathogens during hatching and transport, decreases the probability of having to resort to antibiotic therapy by about 6 times.

On-farm hatching is certainly an innovation, pioneered in Europe for broilers and now recommended by the European Food Safety Administration.

Combining this practice with in-ovo sexing ( https://moreaboutchicken.com/the-new-frontier-to-avoid-male-chick-culling-in-ovo-sexing-using-magnetic-resonance-imaging-and-artificial-intelligence/ ) increases hatchability (hatching rates) because there are no restrictions on when eggs can hatch.

However, like any innovation, this also requires additional measures (which translate into costs) on the part of farmers, such as more sophisticated climate control before and during the hatching process and the management of non-viable eggs or unhatched baby-chicks in order to maintain high general welfare standards. In addition, the farmer must lengthen the growing period by about three days to facilitate hatching.

Behind every innovation there is of course the commitment of companies that study its feasibility and subsequent implementation to make it available to farmers.

We list below some of the innovations that will gradually become more and more available and accessible to the entire industry:

  • A company in Belgium has developed a machine that can automatically remove the hatching eggs from the incubation trays and place them directly on the bedding of the barn https://www.nestborn.eu/the-process/ . This machine is transported to the farm together with the hatching eggs. To ensure that conditions inside the barn are suitable for hatching, the company has also developed a device that continuously monitors the shell temperature while the eggs are hatching. The main advantage is that no modifications to the barn are required, so farmers can implement on-farm hatching at little expense.


Nestborn – A moment of climate control


In particular, two solutions were designed:

  • In the first, the egg cups are placed on a rail system suspended from the roof of the barn that is lowered to the floor of the barn during the hatching process, so that the newly hatched baby-chicks can safely descend onto the litter. Once hatching is complete, the rail system is hoisted back to the ceiling;
  • The second solution considers the design of an entire barn, with vertically stacked platforms where the baby-chicks hatch and are reared on a single platform.

These solutions involve many automated parts of the process (such as the collection of unhatched eggs and eggshells), reducing the collateral (mainly labour) costs of hatching on the farm.


Vencomatic – baby-chicks can safely descend onto the litter


  • Also in the Netherlands, a low-investment on-farm hatching solution has been developed. It is a system whereby a recyclable egg tray ( https://www.one2born.com/en/ ) is placed on the floor of the hatchery. ( https://www.one2born.com/en/how-does-it-work/ ) The hatching eggs are transferred onto these egg trays at the hatchery and transported to the barn and simply placed on the floor of the farm. The tray design allows air to flow around the egg shell for better hatching conditions and keeps the eggs off the floor for better temperature control. When the eggs hatch, the carrier is left on the litter where it acts as an enrichment for the baby-chicks and eventually biodegrades. This system requires minimal investment in the barn and is optimal for biosecurity as nothing is transferred between barns.
one2born – The hatching eggs are transferred onto these egg trays placed on the floor of the farm


Home-hatching – foldable stainless steel supports on which the egg trays rest



The fact that on-farm hatching creates benefits not only for animal welfare but also throughout the supply chain, other companies around the world are also starting to consider this as an innovation to adopt. Among the considerations of interest is the fact that eggs take up less space than hatched baby-chicks and therefore transporting them to farms is more efficient in terms of space management and also because it reduces the number of trucks or flights required and therefore also reduces the carbon footprint associated with poultry production.


The editorial staff of M.A.C.