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Why have chicks been killed so far?

Every year around 45 million chicken chicks are killed shortly after hatching in Germany alone. These are the male siblings of the laying hens. The female chicks become the laying hens that lay our eggs for consumption. However, since roosters do not lay eggs, the male chicks are discarded for economic reasons. Because the roosters from these breeding lines are usually hardly suitable as broilers, because they put on less meat and it takes longer to fatten them. For this reason, the vast majority of male chicks are currently killed in hatcheries shortly after hatching.

What does the ban look like in concrete terms?

With the ban on chick killing, the federal government is implementing the requirements of the coalition agreement and taking into account the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court of June 2019. That was because it decided that the killing of male chicks was only allowed on a temporary basis.

The draft law now provides for the following step-by-step regulations:

  • From January 1st, 2022, the killing of hatched day-old chicks will be banned.
  • From January 1, 2024, the killing of chicken embryos in the egg after the 6th day of incubation will also be prohibited. According to the current state of scientific knowledge, the chicken embryo is not yet able to feel pain before the seventh day of incubation. From the seventh day of incubation, however, the beginning development of pain sensation cannot be ruled out.

The Animal Welfare Act stipulates in ยง 1 sentence 1 that the life and well-being of animals as fellow creatures of humans are to be protected. According to the Animal Welfare Act, nobody is allowed to cause pain, suffering or harm to an animal without a reasonable reason.

What alternatives have been developed?

Since 2008, the federal government has been funding alternative methods and initiatives with more than eight million euros so that the chick killing can be ended quickly. Research projects have made it possible to develop practical methods with which its sex can be determined before the chick hatches.

With the method of sex determination in the brooding egg, eggs from which male chicks hatch are sorted out and only female chicks are hatched. Another alternative is the rearing, fattening and slaughter of male chicks as so-called brother cocks and the use of "dual-purpose chicks".

How does the sex determination procedure work in the egg?

There are two procedures. The so-called "endocrinological procedure" is already in use. The eggs are incubated for about nine days. Then some liquid is extracted from each egg without damaging the inside of the egg. The sex is determined on these samples within a short period of time. Consumers can now buy eggs that have gone through the procedure in some supermarkets.

Another possibility is the "spectroscopic method". Here the eggs are incubated for about four days. Then a special beam of light is sent through a hole in the shell into the egg's interior. Gender is determined by analyzing the reflected light. If a female embryo is found in the hatching egg, incubation is continued so that after a total of 21 days of incubation the chicks can hatch and then grow into laying hens. The developing chicks are not aware of the sex determination.

What are the Bruderhahn initiative and second-use chickens?

In the "Bruderhahn Initiative", the brothers of the laying hens are raised and fattened, and the meat is further processed. The animals put on less meat and need more time than broilers. The rearing is co-financed through a surcharge on the eggs. At the moment, Bruderhahn initiatives primarily supply the organic market.

"Dual-purpose chickens" are a breed of chickens that can be used for both egg and meat production. Hens of this breed lay fewer and sometimes smaller eggs than conventional laying hens. The roosters are fattened, but grow more slowly and have smaller pectoral muscles than conventional broilers.