A hatchery is no ordinary building. In medical terms, it is an equivalent of a maternity ward, which is highly specialised with unique requirements for construction and operations. The main objective of a hatchery building is to provide the best environment to maximise the efficiencies of converting fertile eggs into high quality chicks throughout the process of artificial incubation and hatching. The following critical factors should be considered for a clean and sanitised environment for a perfect hatching process.

Know the sources of contamination 

The most common contaminants in a hatchery are bacterial, fungal and viruses’ microorganisms. They get into the hatcheries through hatching eggs, water, air, rodents, birds and equipment. Finding clean fertile eggs is the single most important criteria for keeping your incubators clean. Hatching eggs should be collected three to five times per day and no dirty eggs should be presented for incubation. Avoid washing dirty eggs as this process will push microbes through the breathing pores and contaminate the egg contents.

Fumigate your fertile eggs before   incubation

Hatchery is one of the greatest disease risks in the whole cycle of poultry production and should therefore be treated with a lot of precaution. You should never compromise the day-old chick by letting your guard down. Biosecurity comes first. Eggs should be fumigated as soon as they are collected from the farms or alternatively prior to set. When the egg is laid; it is hot and wet. The wetness means that dirty litter may adhere to the shell. The egg rapidly cools and during this times the shell contracts, drawing in infection from the surrounding area. Most infection of the egg by fungi and many other organisms, happens here. A combined used of Triazolol spray and Paraformaldehyde gas is advisable.

Cleaning the cabinets during incubation

Irrespective of the kind of incubator you have, I advise that a method of spraying the eggs in the incubator once per day preferably the last activity of the day is adopted. The floor of the incubators can be thoroughly cleaned using hot water and a disinfectant every morning. You can alternatively place a carpet on the floor below the trays and remove for cleaning once per week. In doing so, the incubators are kept clean and sanitised. The most preferred combination is glutaraldehyde and quaternary ammonia compounds (QACs’). QACs on their own do not kill fungus (Aspergillus fumigatus) and some bacteria like Pseudomonas organisms have shown some resistance to some QAC.

Maintain high personal hygiene

Humans still play an important role in cleaning and decontamination programme. All staff handling hatching eggs and chicks processing must take a good shower before entry in a hatchery and must be dressed in clean uniforms and foot wear. They must undergo medical checks at least twice per year and must not handle chicks if they are unwell. Hand sanitisation after handling eggs and chicks will go a long way in reducing contamination levels.

Rules for the hatchery

The environment of egg storage should be cleaned and disinfected daily and most preferably after every activity that involves egg handling, movement, and storage. The hatched chicks must be processed and packed in a clean room. Hatched chicks must be moved to their destination within six hours after take-off. Only healthy staff should be allowed to handle hatching eggs and chicks. Anyone experiencing flu or flu like infections should seek immediate treatment

The Ideal disinfectant 

A good disinfectant must be safe and environment friendly that does not produce toxic chemical residues. It must be efficacious and possess long-term effectiveness against all harmful microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It should have no side effects to workers, eggs or chicks in the hatchery and should be effective in small doses. Most QAC and Glutaraldehyde disinfectants fall in this category.

Consequences of contamination

Contaminated hatchery environment will certainly result into reduced hatchability, poor chick quality, slowed growth rates at farm level, high bacterial loads, high disinfection costs and increased labour overheads. It has also been proven that poor hatchery hygiene may contribute to high incidences of leg problems in broilers.

[The writer Dr Watson Messo is the Head Vet at Kenchic]

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