In response to animal rights groups’ concerns regarding euthanasia of cockerels from egg laying strains, egg producers in Western Europe and the U.S. have made pledges to adopt in-ovo sex sorting technology when developed. Legislation in Germany now mandates that the culling at hatch of cockerels be stopped as soon as a practical means of sorting embryos is developed. Sex sorting systems for embryos are now under development by at least 10 research groups around the globe.

Dr. Rudolf Preisinger, chief technical officer, Layer, EW Group, told the audience at the United Egg Producers’ Annual Board Meeting and Executive Conference at the Greenbrier Resort that some egg producers haven’t been able to wait for in-ovo sex sorting to be developed. In Austria, organic egg standards now mandate that cockerels are not euthanized at hatch. Producers are now raising these the cockerels for around 10 weeks. When harvested, these 2-pound liveweight cockerels wind up yielding around 0.5 pounds of finely minced meat which is used to make sausage. He said that raising the cockerels to this size adds around $0.02 to the cost of producing each saleable egg.

Gender sorting not perfect

Traditional feather sexing error rates at hatch are 0.005% for white layers and 0.002% for brown layers. Preisinger said that when in-ovo sex sorting systems are brought to market, egg producers will have to accept error rates of 2 -5 %. “It (the error rate) will never be as good as what you currently get from your hatchery.”

Agri Advanced Technologies, a sister company of EW Group, which also owns Aviagen, is working on a spectroscopy method of gender sorting that can be done at 4 days of incubation, Preisinger reported. In this method, a hole is cut in the top of the egg so that the air cell and embryos blood vessels are where the hole is. The whole is nearly 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) across. Infrared Raman spectroscopy is used to measure the light reflected from the embryo. Male sex chromosomes in chickens are ZZ and females are ZW. This difference causes lights of certain wavelengths to be reflected differently. This difference can be used to sort males from females.

Marker-assisted point of lay selection

Caitlin A. Cooper, Ph.D., research scientist, CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory, will present at the Poultry Tech Summit on her research groups work using lasers to do sex sorting of embryos. She reports that the laser detection system being developed could allow for an for inexpensive, non-invasive, industrial scale sorting of eggs containing male embryos at point-of-lay.

Egg-Tech Prize

FFAR and a partnering organization have teamed up to offer up to $6 million in grants and prizes to the firm, group, or individual who successfully develops technology that can accurately and rapidly determine a chick’s sex as early as possible in the egg production process. FFAR is announcing the six Egg-Tech Prize Phase I winners at the Poultry Tech Summit.

The objective of Phase II is to demonstrate a working prototype that meets the criteria established by the Egg-Tech Prize Steering Committee, set to be announced at the Poultry Tech Summit. Learn more about in-ovo sex sorting by attending the Poultry Tech Summit, which will be held November 20-22, 2019, at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Registration for the Poultry Tech Summit is now open.