The new frontier to avoid male chick culling in-ovo sexing using magnetic resonance imaging and artificial intelligence

The killing of male chicks hatched from laying hens has long been a subject of animal welfare concern The topic has also sparked research efforts across the world.


The problem starts at laying hen hatcheries, specialized facilities where fertile eggs are incubated and both male and female chicks are hatched in similar percentages. Afterward, the chicks are manually sexed and the males are culled.


The poultry industry has a very intricate way of working. There are specialized breeds for egg production called layers, and meat production named broilers (read more). As a result of selection, the genetic makeup of laying breeds is very different from that of broilers. The males of laying breeds have two characteristics that the production sector cannot use efficiently: they do not lay eggs and they do not produce meat.

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Male chicks of laying hens are used for the production of capons and very slow-growing free-range chickens, which are, however, limited and seasonal productions. The surplus of male chicks is culled at birth and processed into high-protein feeds, to avoid both uneconomic consequences for the sector (which suffers from very narrow margins) and the waste of economic resources that fattening male chicks would require.


Due to the seriousness of the problem, Germany and France outlawed the male chick culling practice back in 2022. Meanwhile, Italy will do so by 2027

There are two paths hatcheries in these countries can take:

  1. breeding the male chicks, with enormous costs and no market
  2. determine the sex in the egg before birth


Research has obviously turned to this second opportunity by developing the technologies that would make it possible to detect the sex of a chicken embryo within the egg,  and eliminate the male chicks before hatch. However, to truly meet the highest animal welfare, in-ovo sexing must take place before the 13th day of incubation, as a TUM – Technical University of Munich study showed that the embryo’s ability to perceive pain begins at this date.


Commercialized in-ovo sexing methods have branched into two:

  • fluid-based techniques, which compromise the embryo’s hatchability and increase contamination risk as they extract a sample from the inside of the egg through eggshell perforation
  • contactless methods that offer a non-invasive alternative that leave the eggshell untouched.


The latter approach, from several points of view, appears to be the best one, which has therefore been the focus of the collaborative effort between two companies Orbem (pioneer of Deep Tech and Vencomatic Group (expert in poultry automation) who have designed Genus Focus for in-ovo sexing (of which we publish some explanatory images).


Genus Focus for in-ovo sexing





This is such an interesting solution that M.A.C. – (departing from its own rules) has chosen to mention it. The path chosen with this technology uses artificial intelligence combined with magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.). It provides for a fully automated process at 11 to 12 days of incubation, without disturbing the development of the embryo.


As the poultry industry continues its journey towards greater efficiency and better animal welfare practices, this in-ovo sexing formula is finally a solution to avoid the culling of male chicks and to provide poultry processes that are increasingly responsive to the needs of the whole supply chain and those who seek to counteract it.


The editorial staff of M.A.C.