Kipster Pioneers Humane Chick Tech in US Farms

Dutch egg producer Kipster has announced its commitment to implementing in-ovo sexing technology in the United States, becoming the second firm in the country to adopt this humane alternative to culling male chicks. This move follows in the footsteps of Egg Innovations and represents a significant step forward in animal welfare practices within the egg industry.

Kipster, which operates three egg farms in the Netherlands and is planning new facilities in the UK and France, entered the US market in late 2022 through a partnership with MPS Egg Farms and Kroger. Kroger sells Kipster’s certified humane and carbon-neutral eggs under its Simple Truth brand. The in-ovo sexing technology, which allows producers to determine the sex of chicks well before they hatch, will be implemented this fall at Kipster’s Indiana facility. According to co-founder Ruud Zanders, the company aims to have its next flock fully utilizing this technology by October.

The technology Kipster will employ involves allantoic sampling, a process where a drop of liquid is extracted from eggs around day nine of incubation and tested for biomarkers to determine the sex. This high-throughput approach, already commercialized in Europe through the Respeggt brand, is more expensive than non-invasive imaging but can be applied earlier in the incubation period. This method has been successfully deployed in leading European retailers such as Carrefour, Rewe, and Edeka.

The egg industry has long grappled with the ethical dilemma of culling male chicks. Currently, most US hatcheries incubate billions of eggs, wait 21 days for them to hatch, and then hire trained ‘sexers’ to determine their sex. Approximately 50% of the chicks, being male, are culled as they are of no use to the food industry—they cannot lay eggs, and their meat is not marketable due to differences in chicken breeds used for eggs and meat.

In Europe, Kipster has been raising male chicks for meat through a partnership with Lidl. However, Zanders notes that there is no market for rooster meat in the US, citing challenges such as the lack of infrastructure for slaughtering roosters and spent hens, and consumer preferences for the taste of broiler chickens. Despite initial attempts to rear male chicks in the US, Kipster had to revert to culling due to these challenges. The new in-ovo sexing technology will enable the company to uphold its commitment to animal welfare and zero waste.

The male eggs diverted from hatcheries after sexing can be utilized in various industries, including animal feed. Kipster’s sustainable practices extend to feeding its chickens primarily with waste food rather than grains, powering its barns with solar energy, and raising chickens in humane conditions certified by Humane Farm Animal Care.

Despite the slow adoption of in-ovo sexing technology in the US, there is growing momentum. Research from US nonprofit Innovate Animal Ag (IAA) indicates that in-ovo sexing achieved nearly 15% market penetration in the EU by last fall. Regulatory interventions in Europe, such as bans on male chick culling in Germany, France, and Austria, have accelerated the adoption of this technology. In contrast, US producers face no such regulatory pressure, with little incentive to invest in solutions for a problem that 89% of Americans are unaware of, according to IAA survey data.

The United Egg Producers (UEP), which accounts for 90% of US egg production, called for the elimination of day-old male chick culling in 2016 but later stated that a suitable method for the US market was not yet available. However, some companies are beginning to take action. Egg Innovations recently committed to implementing in-ovo sexing technology, although it did not specify a timeframe.

IAA founder and CEO Robert Yaman believes that the path to commercialization in the US will start with high-end market segments where consumers are willing to pay for higher welfare eggs. While current in-ovo sexing approaches add between 1-3 cents per egg to the retail price, costs are expected to decrease over time, potentially offsetting the savings from freeing up incubator space and reducing the need for chick sexers.

As the egg industry continues to evolve, Kipster’s commitment to in-ovo sexing technology marks a significant step towards more humane and sustainable practices.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top