When is it time to switch to single-stage incubation?

If operating your multi-stage incubator is starting to seem like waging a losing war on multiple fronts, maybe it’s time to look at switching to a less complicated process.

The number one reason that hatchery managers are opting for single-stage incubation is biosecurity, according to Phillip Perry, a hatchery consultant and technical advisor with Jamesway.

With a single-stage incubator, the operator sets the eggs, shuts the door and leaves it closed for 18 days until the eggs are transferred to the hatcher.

With the trend towards antibiotic-free broiler and layer production, using what is basically an all-in, all-out strategy can reduce not only the headaches of constant maintenance, but also the risk of losing multiple hatches if something goes wrong.

“In a multi-stage unit, if you get a dirty flock in there, in severe cases, you may have to destroy the whole machine,” said Mr Perry, in a recent edition of Jamesway’s popular Webinar Wednesdays that are broadcast live from the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.

That’s not the case with a single-stage unit. Even if everything goes wrong, at worst, only one hatch is lost. With multi-stage, at minimum you lose multiple hatches, he added.

Cabinet integrity is another reason to pull the plug on an old, dilapidated multi-stage incubator.

“I’ve gone to hatcheries where they say, ‘Don’t go up on that roof because its going to fall in,’” said Mr Perry.

If the cabinet is that bad, then it’s long past time to invest in a new unit, he added.

Still, multi-stage incubators work well – if conditions are right – but there comes a time when aging equipment becomes dangerous and should be replaced. Replacing top panels can be done, but it is difficult.

In the end, renovating and repairing an old multi-stage incubator may not end up saving money, and it does nothing to resolve the ever-present risk of losses due to compromised biosecurity.

With eggs constantly going in and coming out of a multi-stage incubator, there is no opportunity to do a thorough cleaning of the entire unit.

Mr Perry recalled his own personal experience with a multi-stage incubator that produced not only chicks, but also salmonella.

Nobody could figure out why all the eggs that went into a particular incubator came out infected.

“We tried to find the source. We knew that all the eggs going in were clean. Finally, we found that there was water being trapped between the panels that contaminated every group of eggs that we put in there,” said Perry.

“Being a breeder company, it didn’t take long to get rid of that machine,” he added.

Multi-stage machines also cost more to operate in terms of labor. Every day, a worker must go in to check if the eggs are being turned properly. In a single-stage machine, two-tier buggies make this task much simpler.

Also, scheduling a multi-stage incubator might lead to workers being forced to set eggs on a weekend at 3 am – which might not be appealing to some people who would prefer to work regular hours.

“With a single-stage, you can put the eggs in on Friday and start them incubating on Monday,” said Mr Perry. That’s because the temperature can be easily set to remain as low as an egg storage room. In a mulit-stage unit, that can’t be done without potentially affecting other groups of eggs that may already have begun developing.

One often overlooked downside with multi-stage incubators is the issue of dealing with metabolic heat generated by today’s top-performing embryos.

“Breeds and strains are not getting any colder,” he said. “The machines that were made 30 years ago are not designed to handle the metabolic heat that we see today.”

With all the advantages of single-stage incubation, more and more operations that are expanding their production capacity are choosing to install single-stage machines instead of adding more multi-stage units, added Mr Perry.

Unfortunately, hatchery managers typically do not have the authority to make purchasing decisions, he said, noting that this can be frustrating for the people who are most aware of the limitations inherent in multi-stage units.

However, as the year end approaches, there is a chance that funding will appear in the capital budget for such a purchase, he added.

“They may say, ‘There’s capital here. Find something quick.’ That may be a good time to make the switch to single-stage,” said Mr Perry.