Culling male chicks is coming to an end

Culling day old male chicks from layer breeds is much under debate in the western world. But a reliable solution is there. “In ovo sexing” has become reality and is as accurate as current manual sexing methods. The Seleggt technology is running in a robot carousel, developed by HatchTech Incubation Technology. Under the “respeggt” label, eggs which have been laid by layers which originate from this system, are available in European supermarkets. – By Ad Bal
The culling of male chicks from layer breeds directly after hatch, has been common practice for decades (today 300 million in the EU alone). Not a pleasant practice though, but an alternative wasn’t there. After all, these birds have been bred for egg production, rather than growing for meat. Consequently, they have limited value, apart from feeding them to predators in zoo gardens. Despite some niche alternatives, like the roosterburger from Lidl, there is simply no commercially acceptable use of these chicks. Moreover, in ovo vaccination of male chicks is waste of hatching capacity, vaccine and labour. Yet, through extensive research, the solution is there and will soon be available on a commercial scale. Various methods have been and are still being researched. The method which is currently available, was developed by German based company Seleggt, in collaboration with the University of Leipzig and REWE retail group from Germany. This Seleggt technique is accurate and operational and has been installed in a carousel robot, developed by HatchTech. Currently, this machine is running in a Seleggt layer hatchery in The Netherlands where it is tested under practical, daily circumstances. This is just in time, as new legislation on this matter has been adopted in Germany and France. As of the first of January 2022, the culling of male chicks will be prohibited in both countries. And it is likely that other EU countries will follow soon thereafter. Layer hatcheries will therefore have less than two years to find a solution.

With the Seleggt method, the eggs are placed in the carousel at day 9. At that moment, the chick embryo does not experience pain yet. A laser beam then pierces a very small hole through the eggshell (0,3 mm). Thus, a small droplet of “allantoic fluid” (urine) can be collected. Onwards, a droplet of marker is added to the fluid. After 30 minutes, with an accuracy of 98 percent, a colour signal makes clear whether there’s a male or female embryo inside the egg. One carousel is running at a capacity of about 3000 eggs per hour. Table eggs which have been laid by layers from this system, will be marked with the “respeggt” logo. Retail chains REWE and Penny in Germany are selling these eggs already in 4000 retail stores. Carrefour in France and soon also Jumbo from The Netherlands will follow. There are some layer flocks already, of which the hens originate from in ovo sexing. The respeggt label is not exclusively linked to the Seleggt method. It is available to other techniques that guarantees in ovo sexing as well.

Buying a “sexing carousel” will be quite an additional investment for a hatchery and in ovo sexing will require extra labour. For that reason, the additional expenses will eventually be paid by the consumer. The business model that comes with Seleggt is based on providing the machine and personnel as a “free service” . The packing station pays for every stamp and charges the additional expenses to retail outlets. Through blockchain technology, every link in the value chain from hatchery, rearing, laying and packing, is secured. This is an autonomous system, whereby the various links in the chain control each other, to avoiding malversation.

It is clear that a major step in sexing chicks from layer breeds is made. Soon, the culling of male chicks will be history in a number of countries in the EU. Apart from this important animal welfare issue, the selected “male eggs” can be used as valuable ingredient in animal feed. For this purpose, Seleggt came to an agreement with Netherlands based company Schaffelaarbos, which is producing valuable feed ingredient from useless eggs. These hatching eggs, which have been hatched for 9 days, have officially been approved by the “Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority” (NVWA) for being processed in animal feed. Coincidently, both the Seleggt hatchery and Schaffelaarbos are located in Barneveld, The Netherlands. Hence, the selected male eggs can easily be collected and supplied to Schaffelaarbos, just around the corner. All in all, in ovo sexing is a very nice story for the sake of animal welfare. Most likely, both the layer business and consumers will embrace and support this new technology in the near future.