Extra roosters pose an issue to backyard flocks everywhere. Fighting, crowing and breeding damage are just a few problems that present themselves. Unfortunately the natural hatching ratio of 1:1 (male versus females) makes having extra roosters an inevitable problem, especially for those of us hatching at home.
Extra Roosters in Commerce
The poultry industry also struggles with extra roosters, and it spends lots of money trying to deal with it. Custom genetic crosses are used to create sex linked traits that allow chicks to be sexed easier, talented employees get paid well to sex pure bred chicks the day they hatch, and breeding programs do their best to focus on avoiding the hatching of extra roosters. All these things come with a financial cost.
Besides financial and logistical problems, these extra roosters present an emotional issue. Extra rooster chicks are disposed of at hatcheries en mass, by method of grinding. Even myself, who takes a rather pragmatic approach to livestock, find this to be hardly within the realm of humane . It’s an unfortunate reality of the poultry industry, one that has been with us since the advent of mass hatching, and an issue that has dogged the commercial poultry industry since the rise of the publics interest in humanely raised animal products.
Political, Social Pressure
In June of 2016 United Egg Producers (UEP), who is the association that represents the American egg industry at large, stated that it was their goal to “… (eliminate) the culling of day old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.”
Notice it’s a “goal” with caveats, not a set-in-stone decree.
The UEP has been under siege by the likes of PETA and other animal rights groups for years, and what is done with extra roosters has become a sticking point of many arguments. In Europe, laws trying to eliminate the practice of grinding extra roosters have failed to pass, but the pressure is real and the industry is noticing.
Even tho laws have been unsuccessful, the public has been voting with their purchase power, favoring food products that claim more humane treatments and methods. This alone is enough to motivate the industry to look at alternatives, seen as an opportunity to increase sales and gross income.
On the back side however, there’s a previously overlooked opportunity the industry has found; cost reduction. If the hatcheries can massively reduce the load of the skilled human sexers with technology, there is a direct cost savings for the hatchery. Additionally, if they can hatch half as many eggs and still end up with the desired amount of hens, then that represents an instant increase of capacity, and a savings in energy costs.
These are some grandiose theories, but it means nothing if there exists no method of sexing eggs.
Vital Farms, a Texas based company, is committed to producing poultry products for the ethically minded consumer. As part of their pursuit of offering the most humane products they can, they are currently working with Israeli tech company Novatrans to develop some promising technology.
By day 2 of incubation, they claim that gases that are emitted from the egg can identify it as male or female with significant accuracy. They also claim that the eggs identified as potential extra roosters can still be sold as a food product.
Not to be outdone, German researchers have been working on a laser system that may also be capable of sexing eggs. Looks like everyone’s on the bandwagon of progress.
End of Chick Grinding
Will 2020 be the end of all chick grinding? Likely not. There are promising projects on the horizon, but even when they finally become standard use in the industry, there will likely be some degree of error to account for, and overstock that needs to be disposed of. Is this a great step forward? Absolutely, and an exiting one at that, but it will hardly be an end-all event.