Having dropped from their eggshells directly onto a clean floor with immediate access to feed and water, the first chicks from the brand new Trillium Hatchery made their way onto Ontario broiler farms during the first week of November.
A Nov. 13 official ribbon-cutting at the 70,000 sq. foot Stratford facility marked the second opening of a large-scale chick hatchery in Ontario in just six months, following the start of production in May 2018 at Woodstock’s Thames River Hatchery.
Before that however, the province’s hatching egg and broiler sectors hadn’t seen a similar development in more than three decades.
Why it matters: Healthy chicks are key to broiler farm profitability and that all starts at the hatchery.
Trillium’s leadership team says the new hatchery’s strength is chicks that have immediate access to feed and water in a well-lit environment, are immediately removed from the potential contaminants of broken eggshells and unhatched eggs, and therefore don’t require antibiotics to fend off infection or disease.
“The new technology in this building will make things easier for chicken farmers in Ontario by creating a stronger, heavier, and healthier chick,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, as he congratulated Trillium’s leadership at the Nov. 13 ribbon-cutting.
The patented technology is called Hatchcare; eggs arriving at the facility from hatching egg farms are placed in specialized incubation trays upon which they’re slowly mechanically rocked under strictly controlled conditions of humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide concentration.
After 18 days, the egg trays are placed overtop hatchery trays with clean bedding, feed and water, and are vaccinated and transferred to a lighted environment. Hatchlings fall directly from the egg tray to the chick tray below, away from potential contamination by broken shells, and within easy reach of all they need to thrive.
Leading a tour through the facility following the ribbon-cutting, Trillium co-founder Murray Booy recalled his first time touring a Hatchcare-equipped hatchery in Nova Scotia three years ago. The neat part for him, he said, was taking the half-hour to watch a set of chicks hatch and fall to the freshly bedded tray floor. Most chicks take a few minutes to dry off, but “they start walking around, and they’re inquisitive. They find the feed; they find the water, and away they go.”
This marks a contrast from conventional large-scale hatcheries, where hatching can occur in less-than-optimum lighting conditions directly into the litter of eggshells. Only after the entire group hatches are the chicks separated from the shells and given feed and water.
Michiel van Veldhuisen, international sales manager for the Netherlands company that originated Hatchcare, attended the opening. Hatchcare systems have also been installed at facilities in Europe, Australia, the United States, Nova Scotia and now Ontario.
Van Veldhuisen said Hatchcare immediately decreases mortality in the post-hatching period, as well as contributing to a better growth rate in the critical first few days of life. As such, it boosts both animal welfare and the financial bottom line for the broiler producer.
As with other projects around the world, van Veldhuisen’s company worked with fellow Netherlands-based Viscon Hatchery Automation to provide high-tech monitoring of Trillium Hatchery’s pre-hatching environment. This includes a monitor that assesses the heartbeat of the post-incubation embryo to determine if it will be a thriving chick at hatching. The aim is to pass on only live embryos.
“We take out that mortality before they get into the hatchery,” explained Viscon general manager Bas Smaal. This enhances efficiency but also boosts hygiene by decreasing the number of dead chicks or non-viable eggs in the hatchery.
At the other end of the hatching process, immediately before the chicks are sent out to farms, the number of viable, healthy birds in each tray is again assessed, both electronically and by hand. The goal is to ensure each outgoing tray contains a uniform number of healthy, well-fed chicks. That minimizes surprises for the broiler farmer in terms of dead or dying chicks on just-arrived hatchery trays.
Booy, of Aylmer, is a former 18-year member of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario board of directors. He told the ribbon-cutting audience, about “a long journey” to bringing this technology to the Ontario industry.
“It was five years ago since Dave Brock (one of Ontario’s largest hatching egg producers) and I started talking about this as an opportunity.”
Booy added that they were driven by a desire for better quality chicks, and hatching egg farmers wanted to be able to take advantage of antibiotic-free and animal welfare-friendly niches in the marketplace.
That journey began with Brock crossing paths with the leadership of the Nova Scotia hatchery at a conference in Atlanta. That company’s chief financial officer, Doug Kaizer, soon became the third member of Trillium Hatchery’s founding team.
Booy said funding was secured through agreements with a group of 23 shareholders, a few hatching egg producers, over a dozen broiler farmers, and the rest representing interests related to the chicken farming sector but not actually raising birds.
A trip to the Netherlands was arranged, and eventually a deal was struck for equipment to be shipped to Ontario.
Current hatching capacity is 20 million chicks per year. There’s space within the existing building to install additional Hatchcare modules and bring annual production to 40 million chicks. On the rear of the Wright Boulevard industrial park property, there’s space to construct an addition of similar size to handle an ultimate capacity of 80 million chicks.
According to Booy, currently about 250 million chicks are hatched annually for the broiler industry in Ontario.