Phasing-out of chick culling

On 20 May 2021, the German Bundestag adopted the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture's act banning the culling of chicks. It came into effect on 1 January 2022, making Germany a global pioneer in this area.

Every year in Germany alone, about 45 million chicks were culled shortly after hatching. These are the male siblings of the laying hens. The female chicks grow to become the laying hens that lay our table eggs.

The  Act amending the Animal Welfare Act has regulated a nationwide ban on chick culling in Germany since 1 January 2022. The statutory ban was necessary in order to uniformly prohibit the culling of chicks and to be able to effectively sanction violations.

Why have so many chicks been killed so far?

The chicken breeds bred for egg production are less suitable for the production of meat on grounds of economic efficiency and product quality. Male chicks of these laying breeds have therefore so far not been reared in most cases and were culled immediately after hatching.

The BMEL has campaigned for an end to this practice. Given that a ban on chick culling only makes sense if businesses do not move abroad in the absence of any alternative, the BMEL has funded several procedures and initiatives since 2008 with several million euros that make the culling of male chicks superfluous.

Background:  What alternatives have been developed?

Sex determination in the hatching egg

Before the chicks hatch, the sex determination procedures applied to the hatching egg ("in-ovo sex determination") can be used to check at an early stage whether a female or male chick will hatch from the egg. While eggs in which female chicks develop are incubated further, incubation of hatching eggs with male embryos is terminated. The eggs that have been discarded can then be used as feed, for instance.

The procedures for sex determination in hatching eggs (“in ovo sex determination”) funded by the BMEL pursue two different approaches:

  • In the endocrinological procedure, the eggs are incubated for around nine days. Some liquid is then extracted from each egg without damaging the inside of the egg with the embryo. A biotechnological method is then applied to these samples, enabling the sex to be determined very quickly.
  • In the spectroscopic procedure, the eggs are incubated for around four days. Then, a special light beam is sent into the interior of the egg. The sex is determined by analysing the reflected light. Incubation is stopped if a male embryo is detected in the hatching egg. Incubation is continued if a female embryo is detected in the hatching egg so that the chicks hatch after a total of 21 days and then grow to become laying hens. The chicks developing inside the eggs are not aware of the sex determination.

The basics developed with BMEL funds have been taken up by the industry in order to translate them into viable solutions for the hatcheries. Since November 2018, table eggs laid by hens produced by using sex determination in the hatching egg without chick culling have been available.

Dual-purpose chickens: a source of eggs and meat

In addition to sex determination in the hatching egg, the BMEL has promoted the breeding of dual-purpose chickens as another alternative to chick culling. Female chicks of dual-purpose chickens are raised to become laying hens and the male chicks are raised for fattening purposes.

So far, chickens of dual-purpose breeds lay significantly fewer eggs as compared to chickens of pure laying lines. The males of dual-purpose breeds also gain weight much more slowly as compared to roosters of the usual fattening lines. So far, livestock husbandry with a dual-purpose breed has only been economically viable through cross-subsidisation under special programmes. 

Raising male chicks

Another alternative to chick culling is the rearing of male siblings of the laying hens. Some holdings have embarked on rearing male chicks and keep the males for meat production. Raising these males requires a much longer period of time - around four times as long as the raising of broilers. Feed consumption is also much higher here, whereas the individual meat cuts are smaller and have a higher fat content compared to those of specialised fattening animals. The higher production costs associated with this are usually offset by marketing the eggs of the laying hens with a corresponding surcharge: each egg from the sibling hens therefore costs a few cents more.

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