Maternally Surging Ahead - By Dr. Tom Whiting
“In any production situation, addressing the greatest constraint to production, is one strategy to advance the system. In our particular case Whiting Farms had reached a maternity limit to our growth. Basically we couldn’t accommodate the amount of eggs we wanted to incubate. So we needed more incubation capacity. But this is more complex than just installing a new incubator or two. Rather the hatchery itself is part of the system, and it’s design and capabilities are integral to the proper incubation of each egg. In fact the very hatchability of the eggs and the quality of the chicks can be enhanced or hampered by the hatchery design and function. Ventilation is probably the most critical as eggs are not inanimate objects, but literally living, breathing organisms requiring oxygen and carbon dioxide removal.
Even egg flow through the hatchery is very important. Some might liken a hatchery to an organism itself, a female at that, with the incubators being the wombs and the hatchery, in its entirety, the body providing the life support systems to sustain mother and baby. All these requirements were addressed when the new hatchery at Whiting Farms was designed and constructed in 2011. But if I have learned anything in business it is always “plan for expansion”. So with the initial design, the building and systems were planned to accommodate a series of expansions.
Phase one was the initial site preparation including a road to the new hatchery, infrastructure (water, electrical) and a building that was set up for several sets of incubators and hatchers. An emergency back-up generator was placed in a nearby building (They make too much noise and vibrations when operating to be in the hatchery itself.), which was oversized for phase one, but economically it was better to buy large than change it out later. In-floor heat is the optimum way to heat any hatchery, so that was incorporated. And an innovative system was installed whereby the excess embryonic heat that is generated is extracted from the incubators to heat the floors in other parts of the hatchery.
This is because incubating embryos become exothermic after about 12 or 13 days of incubation, whereby you are no longer heating the eggs but rather cooling them. So this energy can then be used for good purposes rather than just being dumped or removed by refrigeration systems that require yet more fossil fuels. Phase one included three incubators each with a “setting” capacity of 18,700 eggs, for a combined total of 56,100, plus a “hatcher” where the chicks actually emerge from their shells and are then processed.
Phase two began in August of 2015 when the next set of matching incubators and hatcher had to be ordered. These units are state-of-the-art, and are custom made to the specifications of the customer. There are only about 6 manufacturers now worldwide that make these industrial incubator systems, and we use NatureForm incubators. The new incubators arrived Christmas Eve, occupying an entire semi load of components. The assembly was completed, they were fired up, tested and calibrated. Phase two doubled the hatchery setting capacity to 112,200 eggs.
I think the hatchery is one of the most interesting activities that happens at Whiting Farms. We can’t give tours but the adjoining photos can give you something of an idea of what these incubators look like. I have been “pulling” weekly hatches (as it is called) for 28 years, and it is always my favourite day of the week. It still seems a miracle to me that you can put an egg in an incubator, and 21 days later a perfectly formed baby chick breaks its way out of it! With all the different lines we have, hatch day can be a rainbow of colours and patterns. Great fun.
And yes, there is a plan for phase three.”
Thomas S. Whiting Shop the full Whiting Farms range here