Welfare aspects of chick handling in broiler and laying hen hatcheries
Six commercial hatcheries were visited in the United Kingdom, three of which processed laying hen chicks and three of which processed broiler chicks. The accelerations experienced by the chicks passing through the handling systems were evaluated using miniature data logging accelerometers,
which were sent through the systems. The lengths, speeds, and heights of drops of the pathways within each system were also measured. The response of the chicks to the handling was measured in terms of mortality, orientation, righting time (as a measure of disorientation) and tonic immobility.
The study showed there to be a range in the physical severity of handling across the hatcheries that could also be seen in terms of differences in the measurements made on the chicks. Nonetheless, the welfare of the chicks passing through the automated systems appeared to be generally acceptable.
However, given the velocities and accelerations within these handling systems, there is scope for considerable damage to the chicks, and for poor welfare, if systems are not properly set up or maintained.