Cookies on Animal Science Database

Like most websites we use cookies. This is to ensure that we give you the best experience possible.


Continuing to use  means you agree to our use of cookies. If you would like to, you can learn more about the cookies we use.

Animal Science Database

Supporting your research in animal production, welfare and health

 Sign up to receive our Veterinary & Animal Sciences eNewsletter, book alerts and offers direct to your inbox.

News Article

In ovo sexing of chicken eggs

Technique has potential to prevent unnecessary annual culling of day-old male chicks

A study published in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry describes the use of fluorescence  spectroscopy to determine in ovo the sex of early embryos of domestic chickens. This non-destructive method detects differences in the fluids contained in an egg from which a cockerel will develop, compared to one from which a hen will hatch; this method can accurately determine the sex of a chick within four days of an egg being laid.

The availability of such a method to sex eggs can lead to more ethical practices in the poultry industry. It could potentially prevent the annual culling of seven billion day-old cockerels worldwide that have little economic value, but whose female siblings help produce the current global demand of about 68.3 million tons of eggs per year, according to Roberta Galli of Technische Universität Dresden (Germany) and Gerald Steiner of Technische Universität Dresden and Vilnius University (Lithuania), lead authors of the study.

As the meat of male birds of the laying strain has little economic value, many producers choose to cull day-old cockerel chicks. Approximately 370 million chicks in North America and 420 million in Europe are culled annually. In Germany, day-old chicks are killed by asphyxiation or by grinding, leading to ethical issues that have triggered increasing research aimed at providing suitable alternatives.

The current study is an extension of previous work by the researchers that showed that imaging techniques can be used to sex incubated chicken eggs. This can be done by noting gender-specific biochemical differences in the embryonic blood contained within an egg shell.

In the current study, a laser emitting at a wavelength of 785 nanometres was used to investigate 27 eggs up to 11 days after they were laid. The researchers were able to note sex-related differences in the near-infrared fluorescence spectrum within 3½ days after incubation. Further analysis showed that the blood of male eggs is characterised by a specific fluorescence band located at ~ 910 nanometers.

Galli and Steiner's team tested whether these fluorescence characteristics, together with changes in the wavelength of light, could be used to classify whether a hen or a cockerel will develop from an egg. When tested on 380 eggs, they accurately did so in 93 percent of cases.

"In ovo sexing based on spectral analysis is non-invasive, does not require extraction of egg material and does not use consumables. Moreover, the method is applicable during the fourth day of incubation, before onset of embryo sensitivity at day seven, and is therefore in agreement with animal welfare," notes Galli.

Steiner says that there is potential to use such fluorescence techniques to develop industrial systems for egg sexing that are not based on expensive spectrometers. It can be done using a few light detectors with suited bandpass filters to measure the signal intensity in selected spectral ranges.

In ovo sexing of chicken eggs by fluorescence spectroscopy. Galli R, Preusse G, Uckermann O, Bartels T, Krautwald-Junghanns M-E, Koch E, Steiner G. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (2016), published online 14 December 2016, doi: 10.1007/s00216-016-0116-6

Article details

  • Date
  • 21 December 2016
  • Source
  • Springer
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal breeding and genetics