10% increase in feed

Bart Janssen enhanced his farm with the X-Treck system; "10% increase in feed returns and less labour"

"On-farm hatching takes an extra two placement days, but you remove six weeks of work because the batch is easier to manage. Add to that the 10% higher feed profit and my decision to convert both broiler farms was an easy one." Says broiler farmer Bart Janssen from Zuidvelde, in the Netherlands.

"The figures prove it. We achieved a 10% increase in feed returns with on-farm hatching", says Bart Janssen. The average feed profit is €80 per square meter. According to the broiler farmer, this results in recovery of the investment for on-farm hatching within 2.5 years. With a 4-point lower feed conversion rate, 70 grams of daily growth of chicks to be slaughtered at the end of the cycle, 40% less medication, and a lower footpad rate, on-farm hatching yields 10% more feed profit per square meter.

Test house
In 2015, Janssen converted a chick house and installed an X-Treck system that allows incubated eggs to hatch on-farm. The broiler farmer had closely followed the developments with the patio houses and recognized the benefits of on-farm hatching. "The new house with space for 20,000 chicks was our test house. From the get-go, the results were better. The rest behaviour of the chicks was immediately noticeable; a big difference compared to the other houses. The chicks in the test house were more vital, easier to manage, and weighed more every cycle. The drop-out rate was lower, fewer coli and digestive problems: the results spoke for themselves. Financially, the test house yielded 4.5 to 5 cents more per chick", says Bart. WUR performed a number of test rounds in his test house and compared the results with parallel batches. The results of on-farm hatching were consistently better. Bart started to convert the entire farm in stages. Because of the large number of houses, he opted for the fully automated X-Treck system. "There are different systems for on-farm hatching. We have limited time and labour. Therefore, these factors were co-determinants in our choice for this system, which is flexible and can be fully hoisted." 

Equal cycle length

A frequently quoted disadvantage of on-farm hatching is the supposedly extended cycle. Janssen still achieves 7.5 cycles a year. With a tight schedule and this flexible system, the cycle length can remain the same. "It takes an extra two placement days, but you remove six weeks of work because the batch is easier to manage." The chicks are delivered on Monday and Tuesday. Janssen owns two catching machines and hires three external staff members for handling. The houses are cleaned on Tuesday and disinfected on Wednesday. On Thursday morning the litter (peat) is distributed in the house, after which the heating is turned on. In the afternoon, the feed is dosed on the chickpaper with a small loader and the X-Treck system comes down. Friday is day minus 3: placement of the 19-day incubation eggs. The floor temperature is 28°C and the X-Treck is suspended at a height of 1 meter. This way, the underheated concrete floor has no adverse effect on the eggs. Upon placement of the eggs, the broiler farmer starts measuring the temperature of a number of eggs. "The temperature of the egg must be between 36°C and 38°C, the house temperature is between 33°C and 34°C", Bart explains. Saturday is day minus 2 and a few chicks are already crawling out of the eggs. On Sunday, day minus 1, the paper webs with feed are already nicely occupied and you see eggs hatching continuously. Monday is day 0, normally the placement day for the day-old chicks. The setter trays and empty egg shells are removed from the house, the remaining shells go through the shredder and the system is winched up. At the end of the day, the house looks as it would after a chick delivery, the difference being that the chicks are already well distributed and it is significantly quieter. "With delivery from the hatchery, it can be very noisy. The chicks make a lot of noise, even after a few hours in the house, as they look for food and water. Our experience shows that it is now much quieter in the house." When the chicks hatch on Sunday and Monday, the floor temperature is 32°C. "The temperature rises as the eggs hatch. This process must be learned. Proper distribution of the warm air is crucial. I work with Wesselmann and Multiheat heaters; they can be adjusted with accuracy. On day 0, when the chicks normally enter the house, the setter trays with empty egg shells are removed from the system and the system is winched up. That also takes five people about three hours", explains Bart. Janssen unloads the batches twice. At the end of the round, the system is blown clean, soaked with soap and cleaned.

Cost driven
The results don't lie: 70 grams of daily growth, gross feed conversion rate of 1.52, drop-out rate of 2.5% and average footpad rate of 10. In the past four years, Janssen installed the X-Treck system in all existing houses and this year he built another three new houses, traditionally furnished and also equipped with X-Treck. "I am cost-driven. When investing in improving well-being or the environment, I always think 'what will this ultimately yield?' It often goes hand in hand", says Janssen. With better results, a cheaper egg instead of day-old chicks, and no or less medication used, a healthy payback period of 2.5 years is easily achievable. The poultry farmer has invested heavily in recent years. "Our financial advisor has been an enormous asset. You have to make complex choices. What do we want to invest in? What do we think is important? How do we prepare building permit applications and financing?" Janssen invested in a 1,500 kilowatts wood stove that heats both farms. Wood chips are widely available in the region; the company has a year supply. He has also invested in a new catching machine; wider, faster, and more animal-friendly. "We now load for 1.5 cents per chick instead of 3.5 cents", says Bart. The new houses have extra dust filters. "That was not necessary in terms of permits, but we do it for the environment."

Large network
Bart is known for working in an open and transparent manner. Supported by the Finse Driehoek, a collaboration between broiler farmers and Vitelia Voeders, he started working differently in the feed area some six years ago. "An open and transparent feed composition. Consultation with suppliers of feed additives and discussion about what we observe in the house. And immediate intervention if necessary", explains Bart. Every cycle, he performs a test together with Elanco: recording, comparing and identifying trends. "We carry out an evaluation every six months and combine knowledge and feed for further improvement of the results." Bart now has a large network in the poultry farming industry and uses it extensively. "Every independent entrepreneur must have a network. Acquire knowledge and share it. The Dutch broiler farmer was invited to the Early Feeding conference at VIV Asia in Bangkok. As a practising poultry farmer, he spoke about his experiences with on-farm hatching. Janssen: "Very interesting. I am happy that we can work as independent entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. This is often not the case abroad. It is good to have a look across the border. On-farm hatching is one of the examples of Dutch poultry farmers taking the lead. The rest of the world finds it interesting, but we are showing the way. We must continue to use and exploit this. We can achieve that by working together in an open and transparent manner."

Text: Monique van Loon