Machine learning method could sort out male chicks

A combination of machine learning and fiber optics could help the egg industry sex chicks in ovo.

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A combination of machine learning and fiber optics could help the egg industry sex chicks in ovo. The technique is in development in the lab of computational biologist, Adam Rivers, who works at the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.

Rivers is an expert in machine learning – when computers use mathematical models and algorithms to make decisions without being explicitly programmed to perform a task.

“Our technology uses the odor of the volatile organic compounds in an egg,” Rivers explained. “Then we’ll combine the volatile signals with machine learning methods to predict the sex and the viability of the egg.”

Volatile organic compounds – also known as VOCs – are naturally occurring chemicals found in all living organisms. VOC analysis is also used to detect biomarkers for diseases like diabetes and lung cancer in humans before symptoms appear.

The method is currently being tested in a small number of pilot egg projects, but Rivers hopes to soon partner with companies in the egg industry to integrate his patent-pending technique into existing commercial egg handling equipment.

Egg-Tech Prize

For his research, Rivers was awarded $396,762 by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) as one of the six Phase I winners of the Egg-Tech Prize. Winners of Phase I of the Egg-Tech Prize were announced at the 2019 Poultry Tech Summit, held November 20-22, 2019, at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 2020 Poultry Tech Summit will be held October 12-14, 2020 at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center. Attendees can expect the same groundbreaking innovation and insightful presentations that made the 2019 event well-attended, with deep dialogue on new prospective solutions and action-packed from industry professionals representing 23 countries.

An expensive welfare issue

Currently, a chick’s sex can only be identified after hatching. Male chicks are of little use to the egg industry and approximately 6-7 billion male layer chicks are culled each year, an animal welfare and economic concern. Producers spend more than $70 million in labor and energy to incubate and sex these eggs and the value of wasted eggs in the U.S. is more than $440 million annually.

Egg producers around the world have pledged to adopt in ovo sex sorting technology as soon as it is available.

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