How's that killing

Killing day-old chicks: these alternatives exist

Germany is the first country to want to ban the killing of day-old male chicks by law. The federal cabinet passed a draft law by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture on January 20, 2021. If it is implemented as planned, day-old chicks may no longer be killed because of their sex from January 1, 2022. Either the male chicks of the laying hen breeds are raised or the gender of the embryos is determined in the hatcheries in Germany and the eggs with male embryos are sorted out and not hatched (see below). In addition, the draft law provides that from January 1, 2024, no chicken embryo may be killed after the 6th day of incubation.

The Central Association of the German Poultry Industry (ZDG) criticizes the law "as a national solo effort by the federal government", which brings competitive disadvantages for the German poultry industry. Because eggs from hatcheries that kill male chicks on the first day of life would continue to circulate within the EU.

Overview of initiatives that the brothers of the laying hens raise

For several years now, those who consume eggs have had alternatives to prevent early killing. The principle is the same for all of them: the egg price includes a surcharge that cross-subsidizes the expensive fattening of the laying hen brothers. Thanks to a subsidy from the sale of eggs, the meat of the roosters remains affordable. Some initiatives that are active nationwide or in large parts of Germany are presented below. There are also other regional initiatives. We ask for your understanding that we cannot give a final overview.

  • The poultry farmers of the "Bruderhahn Initiative Deutschland" (BID) are Demeter and organic farms. The brother cocks are raised according to guidelines, some of which go beyond the requirements of Demeter and Bioland. The eggs come from seven federal states between Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Württemberg and between North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony. There is a list of sales outlets on the BID website.
  • The "basic brother heart initiative" pulls the brother cocks according to Bioland guidelines. The eggs are available nationwide in all basic organic markets.
  • Eggs from the "haehnlein" initiative can be bought nationwide in denn's organic markets, the Alnatura, Real and Globus markets. The markets of Edeka Nord and Ost as well as the Citti branches in Schleswig-Holstein also offer "haehnlein" eggs. You can find dealers in your area here. In the initiative, the brother cocks are raised under ecological conditions - at least in accordance with the requirements of the EC organic regulation. The eggs come from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
  • You can also find eggs from the "Brother Chick Initiative" in Alnatura markets. The following applies to all Alnatura brand eggs: The male sibling chicks are also raised.
  • The SuperBioMarkets offer eggs from the "Brother Egg Initiative" in their shops. The eggs come from an organic or natural farm in the SuperBioMarkt region. The additional proceeds from the brother eggs of 4 cents per egg go directly to rearing projects of the brother egg initiative.
  • The first pilot project in conventional area was initiated in 2016 by the Rewe Group: "Spitz & Bube". There, the beaks of the laying hens are not shortened (hence the name: Spitz) and the male chicks are also reared. The laying hens live free-range and, like their brothers, they receive GMO-free feed. Your brothers are not raised under ecological conditions, but conventionally, but with more space in the stable. They are fattened for around 80 days. In view of its great success, the project was expanded to include other forms of husbandry: "Spitz und Bube" eggs from organic farming are available in some selected markets and "Spitz & Bube" eggs from free-range farming in all Rewe stores throughout Germany.
  • Penny was the first discounter to offer an alternative to chick killing with its egg brand "Herzbube". The male chicks are also raised and the beaks of the laying hens are not shortened. All Herzbube eggs come from barn farming and are available throughout Germany.
  • Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd also offer "Henne & Hahn!" Free-range eggs whose brothers are raised with them. Just like their sisters, the brother cocks receive GMO-free feed and activities such as picking stones and hay bales. The beaks of the brother cocks, like those of the laying hens, are not shortened. Rearing the roosters takes around 12 to 16 weeks. These eggs can be bought in selected branches in North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg, Saarland and northern Bavaria.

The dual-purpose chicken

Another approach is the keeping of so-called dual-purpose breeds. The male chickens are fattened and the hens lay eggs. Neither in terms of meat set nor in laying performance do they achieve top performance - as a rule, they produce a third less eggs and meat. But both sexes are allowed to live for it.

We are aware of individual smaller initiatives from southern Germany and the Berlin region. The "ei care" project has been working with chickens of the "Les Bleues" breed since 2011. The hens lay eggs and the roosters are raised on "Naturland" organic farms in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Eggs and meat are sold in organic shops in Berlin and the neighboring federal states. We only know of a single, small offer from NRW. Further addresses of farmers who keep dual-purpose chickens can be found on the website of the dual-purpose chicken initiative.

The idea of ​​the dual-purpose chicken is being pursued intensively in the organic sector in particular. The Ökologische Tierzucht gGmbH has set itself the task of breeding suitable dual-purpose chickens for organic farms. Breeding has made so much progress that the animals are already being kept on some organic farms. Eggs with the ÖTZ seal can be bought in basic organic supermarkets. It is the wish of organic animal breeding to see primarily dual-purpose chickens on organic farms in the future.

Courts continued to allow killing

In 2013, the Minister of Agriculture of North Rhine-Westphalia issued a decree with reference to the Animal Welfare Act (TierSchG), which was supposed to forbid hatcheries from killing day-old chicks in North Rhine-Westphalia. On May 20, 2016, the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) Münster overturned this decree in a landmark judgment.

The OVG decided that killing the male day-old chicks immediately after hatching did not violate the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act allows animals to be killed if there is a reasonable reason to do so. The court found that there was a reasonable cause, since the rearing of the male chicks was associated with a disproportionate effort. The reasoning for the judgment states: The killing of the chicks is "therefore part of the procedure for supplying the population with eggs and meat".

Since an appeal against this judgment was not permitted, the districts of Gütersloh and Paderborn filed a complaint at the instigation of the NRW Environment Ministry in August 2016. In January 2017 it became known that the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig had approved the appeal. The hearing took place on May 16, 2019. The verdict was pronounced on June 13 and allows the further killing of day-old chicks temporarily. "Since procedures for determining sex in the egg are expected to be available shortly, the continuation of the previous practice until then is based on reasonable grounds," the court said. Read the press release here.

Gender should be determined in the egg

Since 2008, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has funded the development of sex determination procedures in eggs with several million euros. This resulted in these two different procedures:

  • At the endocrinological procedure the eggs are incubated for about nine days. Then some liquid is extracted from each egg without touching the inside of the egg. The sex of these samples is determined within a short time using a biotechnological detection method.
  • At the spectroscopic method the eggs are incubated for about four days. Then a special beam of light is sent inside the egg. Gender is determined by analyzing the reflected light.

The aim of both processes is to sort out and destroy hatching eggs with male embryos before they hatch. Animal rights activists counter the hopes of avoiding animal suffering by saying that the embryos are also living beings. According to current research, the perception of pain in chickens starts from the 7th day of incubation. If eggs are not destroyed until after the 7th day - as is the case with endocrinological sex determination in the egg - it remains a controversial question whether this is an ethically acceptable way of solving the problem of the "superfluous" male laying breed chicks.