Launch of MRI-based technology for in-ovo sexing of chickens

Launch of MRI-based technology for in-ovo sexing of chickens
In-ovo sexing is gaining traction in Europe, spurred by animal welfare legislation. Photo: pvproductions

Poultry breeding company, Hendrix Genetics, and AI-powered imaging firm, Orbem, have launched a high throughput, non-invasive solution for in-ovo sexing for any chicken breed.

The launch of Orbem’s Genus Focus system in the Hendrix Genetics laying hen hatchery in Mur-de-Bretagne, France, on a commercial scale, is seen as a significant breakthrough in the battle to halt the culling of day-old male chicks as it meets the current French and German legislation outlawing the practice.

The solution combines Orbem’s imaging and classification technology with automation equipment of the Dutch-based Vencomatic Group to enable reliable and non-invasive real-time sex determination of poultry embryos on day 12 of incubation. VMG has supplied a newly-engineered handling and sorting system for moving, picking and transporting eggs with great care.

The installation in the French hatchery has the capacity to analyse 250,000 eggs daily when incubating day-old chicks.

Automation and efficiency on a large scale

Gosse Veninga, Hendrix Genetics director of product excellence, said the new technology was an important step in the firm’s vision to set the standards for sustainable animal breeding: “The system delivers a high level of automation and efficiency to ensure that the process can be completed on a large scale in our commercial hatchery. The result is a key achievement in animal welfare and overall sustainability in the industry.”

Dr Pedro Gomez, Orbem CEO, added: “We are very pleased to see our AI-powered technology now fully in operation. It is a world premier as the first fully automated MRI system in an industrial use case based on artificial intelligence.”

Dr Lotte van de Ven, CEO of Vencomatic Group, added: “We see the non-invasive Orbem solution as the best solution in the market and are very pleased to cooperate to bring this solution to the industry. This MRI-based non-invasive solution is fully in line with our vision to deliver solutions for successful poultry husbandry with the lowest possible environmental impacts while achieving the highest animal welfare levels.”

Phasing out of male chick culling

In-ovo sexing is gaining traction in Europe, spurred by animal welfare legislation. As well as Germany and France banning the practice of male chick culling, Italy plans to phase it out by 2026, and Switzerland now requires more humane culling methods.

Animal welfare groups are also pushing the European Commission to include an EU-wide phase-out of male chick culling in its revision of EU animal welfare legislation.

US producers are not under the same pressure from the government to end the practice and have been slower to engage. United Egg Producers, which accounts for 90% of US egg production, called for the elimination of day-old male chick culling in 2016 but issued a statement in 2021 arguing that “a method that meets the food safety, ethical standards and scalable solutions needed for the United States is not yet available”.

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Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist