How to “sex” chicks without breaking the eggs

Barneveld, in the heart of the Netherlands, isn’t just home to a Dutch poultry museum, where you can pet chicks and then enjoy chicken soup. In this town, halfway between Amsterdam and the German border, in 2017 opened one of the most efficient “in ovo sexing” centers in the world. Because the “sexing” of the eggs exists: it consists in determining the sex of the future chick.

Nearly 10 million fertilized eggs pass through this robotic warehouse every year, intended to become laying hens – not to be confused with unfertilized eggs, intended to be eaten. They are placed, one by one, on a “carousel” equipped with a kind of pen which pierces their shell with a laser. Through this tiny 0.2 to 0.3 millimeter hole, a remote-controlled pipette takes a few drops of allantoic fluid – the amniotic fluid of gallinaceae – which it deposits in a reactive product, like a pregnancy test. Answer in twenty-five minutes. Is the liquid turning blue? A female hormone, estrone sulfate, is present in the egg: it will be incubated. Does the liquid stay white? The egg contains a male embryo: it will be killed in its shell by electric shock before being sent to the feeding circuit of fish and piglets.

A lesser evil

What is happening in Barneveld is a lesser evil, which is destined to become widespread. Without this high-tech operation, male chicks would be judged “Unnecessary”, then eliminated barely born. In

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