Through an industry-funded Ph.D. studentship, Moy Park and QUB partnered to investigate alternative strategies to hatching and managing broiler chicks and the lifetime impact of these practices on chick health, welfare, and performance. With birds reared in the Moy Park Performance House, the study evaluated a range of alternative systems including in-house hatching, several variations of in-hatcher feeding and drinking, and a wet starter feed offering upon placement, all alongside typical commercial practice as a control. Ultimately, the study found that the alternative systems did not improve bird performance and provided inconsistent and often poorer outcomes compared to commercial practices. However, out of the alternative systems evaluated, in-house hatching was observed to be the most promising.
The second trial conducted as part of this thesis investigated if current industry standards for chicken house lighting during the first 7 days of life provides the optimum environment for chicks. This research question was posed based on the observation that traditionally chicks spend significant amounts of time under the mother hen, shaded from the external light. A large-scale commercial study was undertaken to evaluate three treatments, including a standard lighting program that is typical across the U.K., increased darkness duration in the first 7 days, and treatment that allowed the chicks optional access to shelter/covered area that provided darker areas for the first 7 days. This study ultimately suggested that long day lengths during early life are not essential to maintain production performance in broiler chickens. It also presented a novel approach to environmental enrichment using dark shelters, which appears to have benefits for bird leg health.