In ovo sex selection reaches commercial scale

A method of selecting the sex of chickens before they hatch has been brought to market in Germany, with implications for how hatcheries operate around the rest of the world.

Eggs have started to be sold in the German supermarket chain Rewe with branding that says: ‘Eggs from hens without brothers’.

The sex identification method, called Seleggt, has been developed in a joint venture between HatchTech, the Rewe supermarket chain, and the University of Leipzig. The eggs from which the laying hens are born have been checked on the genus during the incubation process, meaning the male day-old chicks do not have to be destroyed.

German federal minister of food and agriculture Julia Klöckner welcomed the development. “Now it is possible to identify the gender of the chicks in the hatching egg through a needle-tip tiny hole. Male hatching eggs no longer need to be incubated and killed immediately after hatching.”

Jan Kunath, deputy chief executive of Rewe Group said: “Throughout next year, our customers will be able to buy these eggs gradually throughout Germany.”

Seleggt said it was developing a business model to make the technology available to the industry as a cost-neutral service. The patented process will be available to the first hatcheries from 2020.

In the Seleggt process, a laser is used to burn a hole of no more than 0.3 millimetres into the hatching egg shell. Afterwards, a small amount of fluid is extracted through a non-invasive procedure.

The interior of the hatching egg is untouched. Through a change in colour, a marker will indicate whether the sex-specific hormone estrone sulphate can be detected in the hatching egg. If detected, a female chick is developing in the hatching egg. Consequently, only female chicks hatch on the 21st day of the incubation. No estrone sulphate indicates a male hatching egg, which is separated and processed into high-quality animal feed.


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