Wouter Bruins puts stop to killing day-old chicks: why he became digital champion in farming

Photo by Stefano Zocca

His technique to prevent male chicks from being killed instantly after hatching is what earned Wouter Bruins the title of EU digital champion in farming at the 6th Congress of Young Farmers.

Bruins is co-owner of the company In Ovo, which developed a machine that determines whether a chick is male or female before the egg has hatched.

“Of course, it is super cool to win such a title,” says Bruins. “But what is important is that it actually helps. The price is awarded by a couple of prominent members of the European parliament, and there’s quite a lot of attention for it from the agricultural business, and that just really helps [the cause].”

Bruins explains that currently approximately 6 billion chicks are being killed right after hatching. These are male chicks, who are useless for food production, so they get gassed or ground up.

Bruins’ technique involves taking a sample from every egg and testing this sample. After determining whether the embryo in the egg is male or female, the male eggs are taken out of the incubator and used for pet food. The female eggs are returned to the incubator.

How In Ovo prevents killing of day-old chicks.

“We discovered a certain element [in the egg] that differs between male and female chicks that no one had found yet,” says Bruins.

Gert-Jan Lagerweij, owner of a Dutch poultry farm, is happy that new techniques are being developed to spare the lives of male chicks. He does voice his concerns about the financial feasibility of the project.

“If retail is willing to pay for such a technique so we don’t lose extra money on it and we can still achieve a margin of profit, then of course we only applaud the development. Because it is not good that those male chicks get killed on day one,” says Lagerweij.

According to Bruins, this won’t be a problem. He calls the price increase of eggs caused by this technique “practically unnoticeable” for the average consumer.

“A chicken lays about 300 to 350 eggs in her life. So, when you’re talking about a price increase in this process, then that will also be divided over 300 eggs,” says Bruins.  

And even though financial considerations are important, it is not the main reason for Bruins’ project: “my personal motivation is animal welfare.”

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