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Incredible technological advance

Sometimes one runs into things that are really mind blowing. One example of that is technology that can determine the sex of chicken embryos while they are still in the egg using light or a tiny drop of egg fluid. Sounds like sci-fi but this technique may avoid chick culling in hatcheries.

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The picture of a laboratory set-up for determining the sex of an embryo in an egg after only a few days in the incubator. The fact that it is possible to determine if a chick will be female or male at such an early stage, with only the help of light for one technique or a tiny drop of egg fluid as another technique, is an incredible technological advance. It’s almost science fiction.

An egg is placed on a Spectrometer at a lab at the Carl Gustav Carus Faculty of Medicine of the Dresden Institute of Technology as part of a project to determine spectroscopically the sex of chicks in ovo before they hatch. <em>Photo:John Macdougall/ANP</em>
An egg is placed on a Spectrometer at a lab at the Carl Gustav Carus Faculty of Medicine of the Dresden Institute of Technology as part of a project to determine spectroscopically the sex of chicks in ovo before they hatch. Photo:John Macdougall/ANP

It’s almost as if someone says Tesla builds practical electric cars that can drive fully autonomous. Hold on … they do!

Well, according to the scientists involved, 2017 will be the year that the first machines will hit the proverbial road that can be implemented in a hatchery. The pressure is on at this moment to bring the proof of concept in the laboratory to day-to-day practice targeting 100.000 eggs per machine per day with a success rate of 95%. As with Tesla cars autonomous driving function, there will not be a 100% accuracy and the new techniques will be costly.

Also interesting:
German parliament rejects male chick cull ban
The German parliament has voted down the proposed ban on culling male chicks, instead opting to stick with the voluntary agreement to end the practice when it becomes commercially viable.

However, just as with Tesla moving away from dinosaur juice (gas) to renewable electric energy, there are savings as well. No longer having to destroy day-old layer males is one gain. Financially, only having to incubate 50% of the eggs from day 9 till 21, will have a significant effect on any hatcheries cost structure. In investing in the ability solve the male layer problem, costs will come before returns. In the short run, that is.

Fabian Brockötter

9 comments

  • Martin Huchler

    With Spectroscopy male chicks are already sorted out about 80-88 hours after incubation started.

  • KD Davis

    This technology cannot come soon enough to the commercial sector. I am an ethical vegan activist and have been for 32 years but (and) I welcome this technology on grounds of morality and compassion for birds who have nothing to look forward to, no joy in being alive, in the horrific egg industry. In this industry, death is better than life. There could hardly be a worse condemnation of any human enterprise than that. Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

  • E. Vogelaar

    I thought beginning of formation of reproductive organs and differentiation of sex starts at day 5?

  • Martin Huchler

    With (Raman) spectroscopy it doesn't matter if there are already any reproductive organs formed or not. The genetically determined sex is improtant.

  • E. Vogelaar

    OK thank you. Very interesting.

  • Jens Hübel

    I agree with the author: It is an incredible technological advance. BUT, when it becomes commercially viable and who is the winner of that?
    In Germany alone we killed about 54 million one-day male layer chicks and one-day male breeder layer chicks every year. The egg industry now discuss about the price of the technology and the schedule of 2017 seems to be now more dream than reality (compare statement from Dresden in German press: www.finanznachrichten.de/nachrichten-2016-07/37921347-schmidt-will-kueken-schreddern-weiter-2017-beenden-003.htm). Science needs time. It is great, that scientists work on this for now I think more than ten years. But here we have a problem self-made by breeder industry. If the technology comes, what make the little breeders and the breeders who works today without culling male chicks? Can they pay the price of the technology? What are the advantages for the husbandry?
    We need regional modern breeders with chicken which produce eggs and meat. We are one world and our land-use to produce feed in other countries is part of our "great" German efficiency. In a lot of studies, authors often forget, that feed conversion ratio means not only feed mass also feed quality.
    I'm afraid, that this technology in the hands of egg industry will not help us too solve problems, it will change and cement the problems.

  • gubbi lokanath

    Though the background aim is appreciated in layer type male chicks, has any one thought of,post sex determination of eggs thro' spectroscopy, whether the rejected eggs with male embroys be used for human consumption or will they be utilized for other useful purposes? The industry people have to think of the pros and cons of this investigation?
    lnathgubbi

  • gubbi lokanath

    This technology is never applicable to great grand parent and pure line operations or when pedigree records are desired in layer lines. So too in broiler breeding programs at any stage. In commercial layer industry too where table eggs are only desired, whee is the scope of this technology? Hence, there is more of theoretical application for academic interest in this proposition.
    lnathgubbi

  • Jens Hübel

    Hello Inathgubbi,
    "whether the rejected eggs with male embroys be used for human consumption or will they be utilized for other useful purposes"

    80-88 hours (Martin said) are too late in Germany to use the eggs for direct consumption of humans. But you can use it for different industrial things, which needs the protein. Yes, they think about it and that is one point because of the scientists wants to get a method for the earliest stage.

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