Vital role of chick transport in overall flock performance

Dr Orlando Fernandez – Cobb-Vantress technical service, Asian region

Transporting day-old chicks from hatchery to farm plays a very vital role in the subsequent performance of the bird. However, transport conditions are still too often neglected when in fact they have the potential to significantly affect growth rate, feed conversion, meat yield and the development of the immune system.

Nowadays, some companies still deliver day-old chicks from hatcheries to rearing farms at distances of 100 km (62.2 miles) or greater in vehicles which are several years old and may not have advanced ventilation and internal air mixing systems. This leads to uneven air distribution and air exchange, and consequently heat or cold stress on the baby chicks. The detrimental effects of such conditions will be proportional to journey duration.

A day-old chick that comes out of the hatchery does not require feed and water for 48 hours due to their residual yolk. A yolk sac contains 1–2 grams of moisture, with two parts fat and one part protein. If early feed consumption is limited, the chick will use both fat and protein in the yolk for energy leaving inadequate protein levels for optimum growth.

The chicks are normally transported in specially designed disposable cartons when going to long distance destinations with the aim of keeping thetemperature inside the boxes within the chicks’ thermoneutral zone or optimal environment. Within this narrow temperature range of 32 - 35°C (90-95°F),the chick’s metabolism is at maintenance level with minimal heat production and water loss.



Modern genotypes have much higher metabolic rates than older breeds and are therefore less able than chicks of 20 years ago to withstand long periods of exhaustion caused by lack of food or water.

Newly hatched chicks cannot fully selfregulate their body temperature. As a result, they are sensitive to heat stress and prone to becoming chilled until fully thermo-competent at 14 days of age. If the temperature inside the chick boxes varies from the 32-35°C range (90- 95°F), the chicks will start using up the nutrients from the yolk sac at a much faster rate in an attempt to maintain their core temperature ranges, between 40-41°C (104–106°F).

A core temperature above 41°C (106°F) post hatch will lead to panting resulting in water loss with the risk of dehydration, and below 39.5°C (103°F) will lead to reduced activity and low feed consumption. At this point, day-old chicks are forced to use their own energy for thermoregulation rather than for growth and health.



Xin and Harmon (1996) examined the effects of a range of temperatures and humidities (20-35°C and 40-97% relative humidity) on day-old chicks by measuring metabolic rate and mortality. They concluded that optimum or thermoneutral conditions occurred between 30-32°C (86-90°F). Xin (1997) has also reported that chicks held at a constant 29°C (84°F) do not exhibit a different mortality or body weight loss compared with birds exposed to as much as a 16°C (60°F) cycling temperature around the same mean temperature.

It is widely recognized that the husbandry of the birds during this period, and the conditions under which they are maintained immediately before and after placement, are vital in determining subsequent performance and health status (e.g. Decuypere et al. 2001; Langhout 2001).

Transport is regarded as a major source of stress and reduced welfare in all species at all ages including poultry, with a major cause of these problems being the thermal micro-environment in transit (Mitchell and Kettlewell 1998; Cockram and Mitchell 1999; Mitchell et al. 2001a; Hunter et al. 2001; Kettlewell and Mitchell 2001a; Mitchell 2002, Nilipour 2002). Transport conditions for day-old chicks have been reported as influencing subsequent incidence of ascites and “sudden death syndrome” (Maxwell and Robertson 1998).



Checklist to avoid problems

  • As much as possible, chick travel time from hatching to placement should be no longer than 48 hours
  • Realize the importance of optimising transport conditions from hatchery to farm for subsequent performance. Judging the quality of transport solely by the number of dead chicks on arrival is inadequate.
  • Choose only reliable and roadworthy chick trucks that have been tested and proven to deliver good quality chicks.
  • As a matter of biosecurity practice, ensure that the chick truck is properly disinfected before loading the chicks.
  • Maintain a temperature of 32-35 °C (90-95°F) the chick boxes by optimizing both the temperature of circulating air and its velocity.
  • Chicks should be transported with nutrient supplies to promote well-being.
  • Work quickly during the critical process of loading and unloading when no forced ventilation is present and/or provide sufficient space between individual chick boxes.
  • Use a stacking configuration and adequate spacing to assure proper ventilation during transport.
  • Take the location of temperature loggers into consideration while reviewing the output; avoid direct contact between chicks and sensors!
  • Adjust the number of chicks per box if optimal temperature inside the chick boxes cannot be achieved due to limitations in transport equipment.
  • Ensure that drivers are well trained and motivated. Their professionalism contributes significantly to optimised chick transport
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