Alternatives to the culling of male chicks

Every year in Germany alone, about 45 million chicks are culled shortly after hatching. These are the brothers of the modern laying hens. These laying hens produce our eggs for consumption.

Since other breeds of fowl are more suitable for the production of meat, the brothers of the laying hens are usually not reared.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) aims to end the routine culling of these so-called day-old chicks. Besides promoting the further development of dual-purpose chickens, procedures for the determination of the sex in the hatching egg are a possibility. To this end, the BMEL is providing approximately 6.5 million euro to fund the development of operational procedures for in ovo sex determination. Before the chicks’ hatch, the sex determination procedures can be used to check whether a female or male chicken would hatch from the egg. The laying hens are then incubated and hatched, while breeders refrain from incubating the male chicks. The eggs that have been rejected may be used as feed, for instance.

As soon as a practicable procedure for in ovo sex determination is made available to the hatcheries (which is due to be launched at the end of 2021), there will no longer be any legal justification for the culling of male chicks (see box above).

How does in ovo sex determination in hatching eggs work?

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

In the endocrinological procedure, the eggs are incubated for around nine days. Some liquid is then extracted from each egg without touching their interiors. A biotechnological detection 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. Next, a special beam of light is sent into the interior of the egg. The sex is determined by analysing the reflected light.

After a total of 21 days of incubation, the little laying hens hatch. The sex determination remains unnoticed by the chicks developing inside the eggs.

What is the current state of play regarding the in ovo sex determination procedures?

The fundamentals developed with BMEL funds have been taken up by industry in order to translate them into viable solutions for the hatcheries. Since November 2018, the first shell eggs produced using sex determination in the hatching egg without chick culling have been available at regional level. It is now imperative to turn the sex determination into a widely available solution. The BMEL is supporting industry by providing further funding for the optimisation of the sex determination procedure.

Dual-purpose chickens: a source of eggs and meat

Besides in ovo sexing, the BMEL also provides support for the use of dual-purpose chickens. This means breeds that can be used both for egg and meat production.

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