The consequences of the ban on killing chicks

Status: 01/31/2022 08:07 a.m

Since chick killing was banned, tens of millions of animals now have to be raised somewhere. How companies deal with it – and why the legislation has gaps.

By Barbara Berner, HR

Pictures of day-old chicks ending up in the shredder are a thing of the past, at least in Germany. Since the beginning of the year, male chicks can no longer be killed in this country – this is stipulated by law.

“After all, we’re talking about 45 million day-old chicks every year,” says Christiane Kunzel from the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center. And they have to be raised somewhere. “It’s certainly not just in Germany, and of course it’s also about what happens to the meat of the animals.”

Where hens and roosters grow up

A chicken yard in Hessian Biblis. Dagmar and Siegbert Ochsenschläger switched almost three years ago. Instead of only keeping pure laying hens, hens and roosters grow up together. Because the “eternal discussion about killing chicks, shredding chicks annoyed him, and then I looked for a solution,” as Siegbert Ochsenschläger says.

Now the hen’s brother is also being raised on the farm – a farm romance with 300 chickens that have plenty of exercise. Poultry farmers must be able to afford the well-being of the chickens. Because the roosters put on less meat than conventional broilers. So the Ochsenschlägers have additional costs. Customers pay for this through a higher egg price of ten cents per egg.

Higher prices for the eggs

Raising brother roosters is nothing new. Demeter and organic farms have been doing this for a long time. The egg price includes a surcharge, with which the expensive fattening is cross-subsidized – as with the Ochsenschläger family.

But unlike their small farm operations, large hatcheries are not particularly pleased with this rearing. Henner Schönecke, chairman of the Bundesverband Ei, speaks of a problem for many hatcheries. Because they not only need more capacity in the barn to raise the male chicks now. The roosters have to be fed two more months to reach anywhere near the weight of a broiler.

Schönecke calculates that “the young hen costs up to 100 percent more”. He himself has 53,000 laying hens in Wulmstorf near Hamburg. Most of them walk around in the outdoor conservatory. The hens come from a hatchery in Lower Saxony. It’s the only one, he says, that does sex determination in the brood egg: “All the other hatcheries raise brother cocks.”

Uncertain future for hatcheries

The procedure for determining the sex works like this: A non-contact laser burns a 0.2 millimeter hole in the hatching egg. A small drop of liquid is removed by a suction device. This shows whether it is a male or female hatching egg. In the so-called “Seleggt procedure”, the hatching egg is examined on the ninth day. The male chicks are sorted out before they hatch and processed into animal feed.

Association leader Schönecke fears that the hatcheries will die. At least three of 22 companies have already given up. The reason: too little capacity, too much additional cost in rearing the cocks. And hardly any hatchery wants to invest in sex determination technology.

Because today’s standard will no longer be applicable in two years’ time. From 2024, gender determination in the brood egg will only be permitted on the sixth day at the latest. To date, however, none of the technologies used has met this requirement. That’s why Schönecke speaks “of a birth defect of the law. Nobody invests in a technology today that costs millions and that will be outdated by 2024”.

Foreign liquid egg without labeling

Ethics ends at the latest where the import begins. In 2021, German laying hens laid 13.9 billion eggs. But 19.5 billion were eaten. 28 percent come from abroad. “The killing of rooster chicks and the way they are kept are mostly irrelevant,” says Schönnecke. And it’s not just table eggs alone.

Of the more than 235 eggs that every German eats on average, about half are found in food: in pasta, pastries, mayonnaise or in veggie sausages – unmarked.

Liquid egg imports come from countries like Lithuania, Hungary or the Ukraine. “And that’s perfectly fine. Of course, we can introduce that,” says consumer advocate Kunzel. “We have to assume that the male chicks will continue to be killed.”

For this reason alone, consumers, animal rights activists and the Egg Association are demanding clear labeling on all food packaging. However, industry and trade are still a long way from this. Consumers only occasionally find such marked products. Anyway, here is a start.

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