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Effects of feed access after hatch and inclusion of fish oil and medium chain fatty acids in a pre-starter diet on broiler chicken growth performance and humoral immunity.


Delayed feed and water access is known to impair growth performance of day old broiler chickens. Although effects of feed access on growth performance and immune function of broilers have been examined before, effects of dietary composition and its potential interaction with feed access are hardly investigated. This experiment aimed to determine whether moment of first feed and water access after hatch and pre-starter composition (0 to 7 days) affect growth rate and humoral immune function in broiler chickens. Direct fed chickens received feed and water directly after placement in the grow-out facility, whilst delayed fed chickens only after 48 h. Direct and delayed fed chickens received a control pre-starter diet, or a diet containing medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) or fish oil. At 21 days, chickens were immunized by injection of sheep red blood cells. The mortality rate depended on an interaction between feed access and pre-starter composition (P=0.014). Chickens with direct feed access fed the control pre-starter diet had a higher risk for mortality than chickens with delayed feed access fed the control pre-starter diet (16.4% v. 4.2%) whereas the other treatment groups were in-between. BW gain and feed intake till 25 days in direct fed chickens were higher compared with delayed fed chickens, whilst gain to feed ratio was lower. Within the direct fed chickens, the control pre-starter diet resulted in the highest BW at 28 days and the MCFA pre-starter diet the lowest (Δ=2.4%), whereas this was opposite for delayed fed chickens (Δ=3.0%; P=0.033). Provision of MCFA resulted in a 4.6% higher BW gain and a higher gain to feed ratio compared with other pre-starter diets, but only during the period it was provided (2 to 7 days). Minor treatment effects were found for humoral immune response by measuring immunoglobulins, agglutination titers, interferon gamma (IFN- γ ), and complement activity. Concluding, current inclusion levels of fish oil (5 g/kg) and MCFA (30 g/kg) in the pre-starter diet appear to have limited (carryover) effects on growth and development, as well as on humoral immune function.