Bringing ag to life

Morris Northstar Hatchery delivers millions of chicks each year

By Gabrielle Hovendon
NNY Business

After being inspected for health and sorted by sex, chicks are sent down a conveyer belt and loaded into crates. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

At Watertown’s Morris Northstar Hatchery, the most advanced pieces of equipment are not the incubators’ temperature-control systems, oxygenating fans or humidity regulators. They’re not the machines that roll incubating eggs to mimic movements of a mother hen; they’re not even the computers that monitor the progress of the eggs.

According to Morris Hatchery Inc. spokesman Jeffrey L. Pierce, the most advanced machinery in the 28,000-square-foot facility is the equipment that inspects eggs for viability, then punctures a small hole in the top and administers vaccinations to unhatched chicks.

“There’s a lot of science to it. It’s not rocket science, but it’s technical,” Mr. Pierce said. “We literally can count our chickens before they’re hatched.”

Opened in July 2008, Morris Northstar Hatchery is a subsidiary of Miami-based Morris Hatchery Inc., the nation’s largest producer and exporter of commercial broiler hatching eggs. Located in the Jefferson County Corporate Park off Coffeen Street near Interstate 81, Northstar represents only a small part of Morris’s $100 million in annual sales, but it’s still the largest hatchery in New York and one of the newest half-dozen hatcheries in the country.

Chicks are loaded, 100 per crate, and shipped on by semi-truck to their destination farm. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

“When we opened the hatchery we opened it using the most current technology in the industry,” Mr. Pierce said. “We were probably one of the most high-tech hatcheries when we were built, and we probably still are. Hatcheries have really, really long economic lives.”

Northstar processes about 15 million eggs every year, resulting in the annual export of roughly 13 million day-old chicks to major Canadian food companies such as Toronto’s Maple Leaf Foods, the equivalent of Tyson Foods or Perdue Farms in the U.S. The eggs, which are laid in mechanical nests in Georgia and Arkansas and shipped in temperature-controlled trucks, survive transportation with less than 2 percent breakage, although only about eight of every 10 eggs hatch into chicks.

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