Fewer hatcheries since chick killing ban | tagesschau.de

As of: April 3, 2024 8:36 a.m

50 million hens lay eggs in Germany. But where do the animals come from? Since the ban on killing male chicks, many hatcheries have had to close. The industry is calling for an EU-wide solution.

Around 1.5 million chicks – future laying hens and their brothers – hatch every year in Werner Hockenberger’s hatchery in Eppingen in Baden-Württemberg. These are exclusively animals for organic farms; the male chicks are raised as so-called brother roosters.

In contrast to other small hatcheries, the ban on killing chicks was not a big problem for him. Only a small proportion of the male chicks on his farm were previously killed and went to bird of prey stations as animal feed, for example. The rest of the roosters have always been raised until slaughter.

Many hatcheries had to close

For many other hatcheries, the ban on killing chicks came to an end in 2022: the brother cock model was out of the question for them. And the alternative – sex determination in the egg – was too expensive. While there were previously around 22 hatcheries members of the Association of the German Poultry Industry, there are now only eight, explains managing director Wolfgang Schleicher.

He criticizes the fact that the law has destroyed structures. Politicians should have given more thought to the impact on small and medium-sized companies beforehand. “It was politics with a crowbar,” said Schleicher. Since the ban on killing chicks in this form only exists in Germany, this also creates a competitive disadvantage.

More laying hens from abroad

Hatchery owner Hockenberger also thinks the law is poorly crafted. Especially because laying hens whose brothers were killed are still coming onto the German market. This is completely legal in the European internal market, but means that smaller direct marketers, for example, get cheaper laying hens from the Netherlands, France or Italy.

Whatever is legally possible and lucrative will be done, according to Hockenberger’s experience. Poultry association head Schleicher confirms that the import of pullets has increased. He assumes that around ten million laying hens are imported into Germany and it is unclear whether their brothers were killed as chicks.

There is no uniform regulation in sight across Europe

Both therefore agree on the demand for a uniform regulation across Europe, but this is not yet in sight. The consumer organization Foodwatch also criticizes the law on chick killing: It has hardly brought any improvements to animal protection. Foodwatch is therefore calling for an EU-wide ban on killing chicks in order to achieve a “real system restructuring”: away from the specialized turbo breeds, which either lay lots of large eggs or quickly produce meat, towards so-called dual-purpose chickens.

Animals that both lay enough eggs and produce meat for fattening are also more robust and less susceptible to broken bones and diseases. According to the Association of the German Poultry Industry, their market share is currently only one to two percent. Because eggs and meat are more expensive if the hen lays slightly fewer eggs and the rooster produces slightly less meat. The dual-purpose chicken is therefore a niche product.

Bavarian hatchery only relies on broiler chickens

Dual-purpose chickens used to be the norm – before highly specialized breeding existed: When Christoph Schopf’s parents from Velden in Lower Bavaria started hatching over 60 years ago, there was no difference between broiler chickens and laying hens. They simply kept chickens – for meat and eggs. The farm now only hatches broiler chickens, which quickly produce meat.

Chicks from laying hens are no longer hatched – the Schopfs now buy them in Austria and Hungary and then raise them. In Austria it is still permitted to kill chicks – if there is a use for them as feed chicks. The Schopfs would have liked to continue like this. Because they actually had good buyers for the killed male chicks: bird of prey breeders picked up the animals from the company, reports senior Paul Schopf. His former customers, as well as animal parks, now have to buy feed chicks from abroad.

Raising brother roosters – not a perfect solution either?

Brother roosters are somewhat more widespread than dual-purpose chickens. A quarter of the hatcheries in the German Poultry Industry Association chose this path after the ban on killing chicks. Three quarters determine the sex in the egg and sort out the eggs with the male animals. That wouldn’t have been an option for hatchery boss Hockenberger from Baden-Württemberg: he didn’t want to kill and dispose of nine-day-old embryos from male chicks. The male chicks from his hatchery go to organic farms in Germany and a partner farm in Austria.

Raising a brother rooster costs around 6.50 euros, says Hockenberger. The laying hen – i.e. the price of the eggs – has to help finance this. But there is also criticism of this system: the brothers of the laying hens hardly eat any meat, the product is not in demand on the market and is also not sustainable, according to the Association of the German Poultry Industry. The animals are often raised abroad and the meat is exported to third countries.

Keep your eyes open when buying eggs – logo “without killing chicks”

If you want to be sure when buying eggs that the brothers of the laying hens are not killed, you can rely on the labeling in food retailers. Anyone who buys eggs from a direct marketer should ask if in doubt. And if you want to know more about your egg, you can go to the KAT websitethe association for controlled alternative forms of animal husbandry, to see whether and with what method the killing of chicks was prevented.

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