Facility has chicks on farms within 24 hours of hatching
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
BURLEY, Idaho -- With the ability to produce 24 million female chicks a year in a 21-day incubation program, Hy-Line North America's chick hatchery keeps commercial egg producers on the West Coast and in the Midwest supplied with laying hens.
Hy-Line International and Lohmann Tierzucht have developed white- and brown-egg laying lines for Hy-Line North America's production. The breeding emphasizes egg-laying rates, feed conversion and shell quality.
"It's all geared at producing the best egg-laying hen we can for our customer," said Mike Privett, location manager.
Because the sex of the newly hatched chicks must quickly be determined, genetics have been developed that produce a red female chick and a white male chick in the brown-egg flocks, and different wing-feather patterns in the white-egg flocks.
The day-old chicks are shipped to the egg producers in company-owned, sanitized, climate-controlled semis.
The process begins in the cooling room where up to 700,000 eggs from Hy-Line producers are stacked on pallets of egg trays.
Using suction and conveyer equipment, workers sort the eggs, culling deformed or broken ones. Desirable eggs are placed into incubation trays, and loaded on rolling carts holding 5,280 eggs.
The carts are rolled into setting machines and remain in a controlled environment with constant adjustments for proper temperature, moisture, air flow and carbon dioxide levels. Side-to-side rotation of the eggs keeps the embryo in the center of the shell.
"We try to create the most uniform, stable environment as much as we can," Privett said.
It's a complex system aimed at getting all the eggs to hatch at the same time so the customers get their chicks when they need them.
After time in the setters, the eggs are transferred from egg trays to hatching trays to keep the chicks corralled after they hatch.
The hatched chicks and unhatched eggs are separated mechanically. The unhatched eggs and shells are sent through a vacuum system and piled to be sold for compost. The chicks are sent down a conveyor belt to be visually inspected for deformities and sex separated.
Because there currently is no market for male chicks, they are euthanized.
The female chicks are mechanically vaccinated with whatever combination of vaccines the customer desires. The tissue on the tips of their beaks can also be removed using an infrared ray if the customer requests it.
The females are then counted and placed in hatchery baskets holding 100 chicks each and stacked in another room to be loaded for delivery.
It all takes roughly 24 hours from hatch to farm, Privett said.
From egg cooler room to delivery, Hy-Line keeps track of the origin and timeline of every egg and every chick, even the unhatched eggs and the deformed eggs and chicks.
"We're absolutely proud of the product we put out," Privett said.
Hy-Line is working on sourcing its fertile hatching eggs from local farmers. The farms will have modern, cage-free buildings housing approximately 40,000 chickens, including both hens and roosters. Current plans are for four to six of these barns in the next 24 months.