Age 12 | Langley, British Columbia
CWSF Junior Gold Medal | CWSF Platinum Award for Best Junior Project | Western University 4000$ Entrance Scholarship | Youth Can Innovate Award | Carlson Wagonlit Award
As a 4-H poultry member, I identified a need for better container options to ship day old chicks. The mail order chick industry is based on the fact that chicks can meet their water and nutrition requirements for up to three days from the time they are hatched without supplementation; they have a yolk sack which can provide all their needs for the first three days of life (Bowes, 2017). Although the mail order chick industry reports mortality rates of about 2% (McMurray, 2017), anecdotal reports (Ohm, 2014; Wickens, 2017) and my personal experience suggest that the mortality rate may be much higher. When I order poultry that is shipped via postal or courier service by truck or plane, the chicks often arrive cold, underweight or trampled.
PURPOSE AND HYPOTHESIS
The purpose of this study is to reduce morbidity and mortality in chicks during shipment by:
A. Identifying contributing factors and determining the relationship, if any, between those factors and shipping box design; and
B. Designing an improved shipping container that would decrease mortality of chicks in transit by addressing container related contributing factors.
MATERIALS AND PROCEDURE
Evaluating current shipping containers involved several stages, the first being background research. Several common types of shipping containers were acquired, and the pros and cons of each were identified. In addition, current research was reviewed and industry professionals, poultry farmers, and an avian veterinarian were interviewed. Based on this, it was noted that there was a need for more research to fill in gaps and to prioritize areas of concern.
For an additional fee, some mail order hatcheries offer to include excelsior bedding, heat pads and Grow Gel (water and nutrients) in their shipping boxes. This study also examined these variables to address their effect on morbidity, mortality and health in general. Fertile chicken eggs were hatched on site over a 24-hour period, resulting in 72 chicks. The chicks were divided into four groups of no less than eighteen chicks, then placed in identical shipping boxes as follows: Box 1: shipping box with excelsior bedding; Box 2: shipping box with excelsior bedding and a heat pad; Box 3: shipping box, with excelsior bedding, heat pad and grow gel; Box 4: shipping box, with excelsior bedding and Grow Gel. Mortality rate, average body weight, container air temperature and humidity were monitored every 10 hours for the first 50 hours. At 50 hours, each group of chicks was transferred to a custom brooder (which provided optimal heat, food and water) and the same parameters were monitored every 12 hours, for an overall total of 168 hours (7 days from start).
This was followed by a second experiment to assess the impact on the general health of chicks in shipping conditions compared to conditions where chicks are not shipped but rather reared on-site. Fertile eggs were hatched on site over a 24-hour period resulting in 90 chicks. The chicks were divided into groups of no less than 18 chicks. Chicks were assigned to one of two shipping boxes with excelsior bedding and one of the three custom brooders. For all groups in the shipping boxes, mortality rate, average body weight, container air temperature and humidity were monitored every 10 hours for the first 50 hours. At 50 hours, each group of chicks was transferred to one of the custom brooder and the same parameters measured every 12 hours for an overall total of 168 hours (7 days from start). These same parameters were also measured in the three groups placed in the custom brooders immediately after hatching.
Based on the results of these experiments, prototype boxes intended to address the deficiencies of current shipping containers were designed and fabricated from the same cardboard as current shipping containers and tested.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The results of the first study of chicks in shipping boxes at ambient room temperature indicated that during the first 50 hours after hatching, chicks in all groups: (Box 1: excelsior bedding); (Box 2: excelsior + heat pad); (Box 3: excelsior + heat pad + grow gel); (Box 4: excelsior + Grow Gel) lost approximately 15% of their initial weight after hatch. It was concluded that Grow Gel, either alone or with a heat pad, did not have any impact on weight loss during the first two days after hatching. Similarly, heat pads appeared to contribute little to improvement of the health of chicks in transit within the range of ambient temperatures likely to be encountered between the permissible mailing period in Canada (March 1st to October 31st).
A cumulative mortality of 11% was observed in Box 2 (excelsior + heat pad), but no mortality was observed in any of the other boxes. Mortality in Box 2 coincided with peaks in temperature in that box.
Observations of the interior of Box 2 indicated that heat pads had the potential to increase the temperature to the point where chicks would crowd to the edge of the container to avoid overheating. As a result of this internal movement, chicks had an increased risk of being trapped in corners and crushed. This, together with the unevenness of the excelsior pad due to the underlying heat pad, also suggested that the corners and floor of the container should be the focus for a better design.
The second experiment examining shipping and non-shipping conditions, compared the growth rates of day old chicks placed in the custom brooders (which provided optimal heat, food and water) to day old chicks placed in shipping boxes with Excelsior bedding for the first 50 hours and then transferred to the custom brooders (Figure 3).
Total weight increased by 7 days. Growth rates of chicks placed in the custom brooders immediately after hatch were higher compared to total weight and growth rates for chicks placed in shipping boxes with only Excelsior bedding for 50 hours after hatch and then placed in the custom brooders (which provided optimal heat, food and water) (Figure 4).
This experiment indicated that the growth rate between 2 and 5 days for chicks maintained under non-shipping conditions was higher than for chicks maintained under shipping conditions for the first 50 hours after hatch. A subsequent variation of this experiment with chicks in shipping conditions with heat but not food and water was conducted. This indicated that the addition of heat did not result in less loss of weight during the first 50 hours post hatching, nor did it improve the growth rate to levels noted in chicks in non-shipping conditions. This suggested that issues associated with shipping are not as much related to heat or cold, within limits, as they are to other factors.
Designing and prototyping a safer shipping box was the third phase of the project. Four prototypes were developed and tested. The final product (Figure 5) included a circular cardboard insert designed to prevent birds from getting stuck in the corners and a false floor added so hot spots could be eliminated, heat could be better distributed, and the floor be made even. These improvements helped reduce potential mortality from being trapped and crushed. With a higher floor, the top of the box needed to be higher, to give the birds more head room. Extra labels were also added, as recommended by International Air Transportation Authority and Canada Post, to prevent mix ups in shipping. Finally, triangular supports were added to the top so that boxes could be stacked without impeding air flow.
The new shipping box was tested by simulating some shipping conditions and observing bird behavior to see if the identified risks were reduced. The prototype box was compared to currently available shipping boxes and found to be equally crush resistant (200 lb.). Poultry farmers surveyed indicated cost was a concern. A quote of $0.89 per box was well under the $1.00 - $2.00 per box that poultry farmers would pay for a shipping box.
The final shipping box prototype removed corners which could allow chicks to be trapped and crushed and provided an underfloor compartment for heat (and potentially cold) pads thus ensuring a flat surface for the excelsior bedding. This provides a cost-effective solution to crush related mortality during shipment and should result in lower mortality, less injuries and substantial savings to the mail order chick industry where usually chicks lost in shipment are either replaced or a credit is issued.
I would like to thank my mentor Mr. Ames, whose guidance made for such a fantastic learning experience; Dr. Bowes from the Abbotsford Animal Health Centre for her time and support in the area of poultry health and welfare; and Mr. Wickens at Beau Peep Farms who provided me with many different styles of shipping boxes for research. I would like to thank 4-H Canada and 4-H poultry club leaders for this opportunity and my family for their support, guidance, use of the birds and equipment on our farm and financial support in completing my project. I would also like to thank Melina Found for her dedication, support and helpful communication. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Mrs. Ashdown for her graphic design assistance in all areas of the box design; Ideon Packaging for cutting the prototype designs; and Magellan Law Group for their advice, guidance and assistance related to obtaining a patent for my design.
Bowes, Dr. V. (2017, 11 28). Personal Interview.
Mcmurrayhatchery.com. (2013). McMurray Hatchery - Chick Survival Rate. [online] Available at: https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/forums/topic.html?t=438 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2017].
Ohm, R. (2014). Shipment of dead chicks to Mercer farmer raises questions about animal treatment. centralmaine.com, from https://bit.ly/2w6eg3M [Accessed 7 December 2017]
Wickens, G. (2017, 11 21). Personal Interview.
Mac Dykeman is a grade 7 student at Langley Fine Arts School in Fort Langley, British Columbia. An accomplished musician who plays the harp, oboe and cello, Mac is a music and visual arts major at her school. Mac is a 4-H Poultry Club Member and lives on a poultry farm, where she and her family raise egg layers and specialty poultry breeds.
Mac competed in the 4-H Science Fair Finals in Turo, Nova Scotia, with her project “Safer Chick-Ments: An Innovative Solution to Reducing Stress in Chick Shipments”. Inspired by her experiences ordering chicks through hatcheries via mail, she set out to find a way to improve shipping conditions for day old chicks, so that injuries and stress could be reduced. Her research led her to design a new type of shipping container which improves shipping conditions for day old chicks by lowering injury and mortality rates. She hopes to continue her research in this area and develop better shipping boxes for other types birds.