Every year, millions of day-old male chicks are culled all over the world since the latter, the so-called ‘brothers’ of laying hens, neither lay eggs nor they do have enough meat as broilers do. For many years now, the EW GROUP and its subsidiaries have been involved in exploring multiple approaches that could help overcome this big challenge.
The possible methods for sex determination in the egg must meet numerous requirements*:
- Early: The sex of the embryo must be determined as early as possible, i.e. before the embryo develops its sensitivity to pain.
- Safe: The procedure must be able to determine the sex with a very high level of accuracy in order for very few female embryos to be sorted out and/or males are hatched.
- Fast: The determination of the sex in the machine must not only be reliable, but also done very quickly in order to meet the needs of hatcheries in everyday practice.
- No negative effects: The entire technical method should not have any negative effects on the development of the embryos and the hatching rate related to the same, nor to the productivity of the adult hen.
- Utilisation of the sorted eggs: The (male) eggs sorted out in the process should be usable, for example as feed or in the cosmetic industry.
- cost-effective: The machine should be operated efficiently so that the additional costs of sex determination remain as low as possible.
- Acceptance: The process must be accepted by the general public and the consumer as a trend-setting approach that helps to solve the problem of culling day-old male chicks, thereby supporting animal welfare.
(* according to Kaleta und Redmann, 2008)
As early as possible
From an animal welfare point of view, the timing of sex determination in the egg is of central importance. The sooner, the better. According to current knowledge, no embryo has ever developed a sense of pain until the seventh day of incubation. For every solution scheduled between the seventh and the 15. day of incubation this cannot be excluded. From the 15. day onward a sense of pain has to be assumed.*
(Click the image to enlarge)
Sex Determination in the Egg
Agri Advanced Technology is working with technical solutions based on the results of basic research in spectroscopic sex detection. In extensive preliminary investigations, the functionality and the advantages of these approaches were clearly demonstrated regarding accuracy of the determination and hatch results.
We are currently working on two optical technologies for sex determination in eggs: the raman-spectroscopic method and the hyperspectral measurement technology. Both methods use light to determine the sex of an embryo in the egg.
The Raman-spectroscopic Method
In the Raman-spectroscopic method, the determination of sex takes place with the support of an optical measuring procedure on the fourth day of incubation. First, the air cell within the egg is detected, the shell is then perforated with a CO2 laser and the lid of the shell is lifted. After the sex of the embryo has been determined, the shell is re-sealed. The eggs classified as females are then returned to the incubator and the male eggs are used for further processing in the industry.
(The photo shows the development stage on day four of incubation)
Intensive test trial
The Raman-spectroscopic method is still under development. A prototype for a fully-automated spectroscopic sex determination in the egg that was developed by Agri Advanced Technologies, is currently in the test phase under practical conditions. It has been shown that the development of such a completely new technology also presents problems and challenges that were not foreseeable before. Since AAT has to make sure that the system is absolutely reliable and stable before being made ready for the market, comprehensive stress testing of the system and its components are currently being carried out. The necessary technical adjustments will take some time. Therefore, no specific implementation date can be mentioned at this time.
The Hyperspectral Measurement Technology
Hyperspectral analysis is a non-invasive procedure. The egg is illuminated with light from below in a closed chamber. The image of the light passing through is captured by a camera on the other side. Based on the calculated light spectrum, the sex of the embryo can be determined. The eggs with the embryos classified as female are then incubated normally.
Hyperspectral measurement technology has several advantages. The procedure can be fully automated with high accuracy (currently greater than 95%) and more than 20,000 eggs can be tested per hour and machine. The procedure is non-invasive, so the eggshell does not have to be opened. Therefore, there is no risk of contamination and no risk of injury to the embryo. Thus, there is no loss of hatching. Therefore, the technique makes additional contributions to animal welfare. Finally, no chemicals must be used in hyperspectral measurement technology, which makes the method particularly environmentally friendly.
The hyperspectral measurement technology only works for brown hens from the 13th day of incubation of the hatching egg. Therefore, this procedure must be understood as a bridging technology until other, earlier procedures are ready for practical application.
(Click the image to enlarge)
Hyperspectral Measurement Technology
For the hyperspectral measurement technology, we installed a first test machine in December 2019 at a French hatchery. With this machine, a flock of in-ovo sexed eggs was produced for the first time in France. Eggs from this flock are expected on the market at Easter 2020.
We are currently working hard on an industrial-scale solution based on hyperspectral measurement technology. With this - through the combination of the non-invasive hyperspectral measurement technology and animal welfare-compliant embryo stunning – we achieve a clear improvement over the current status quo. We expect to be able to place it in commercial hatcheries in Germany and France in the third quarter of 2020.