In commercial egg production, male chicks are killed immediately after hatch as they are not profitable for meat production. Some of them are utilised as feed for zoo or pet animals, or snack for humans, but they do not have a life of significance. In many countries people have objections against this practice.

The origin of this problem is the development and use of specialised breeds for specific purposes, to obtain increased production efficiency and low-priced animal products. Specialization can overcome the opposite requirements for high efficiency in the production of meat and eggs (milk), respectively. For efficient meat production, a high growth rate is essential. In contrast, for efficient production of eggs or milk, low animal maintenance costs, i.e. a high production rate per kg body mass, is most important. This dichotomy is most clearly seen in modern industrialized poultry production. Egg type males require 3 times more time and 2-4 times more feed than meat type birds to reach an acceptable slaughter weight, while meat type hens require much feed for growth and maintenance which makes them inefficient for egg production.

Selection of layer type birds for improved growth rate could make it more attractive to rear the males for meat production, but would strongly compromise efficiency of egg production by the females. A similar situation, albeit less extreme (for now?) can be found in dairy goats and cattle. Male offspring of dairy goat and some typical dairy cattle breeds do not have an economic value for meat production and may be killed at birth. In terms of economics, resource efficiency, or animal welfare (provided killing is carried out in a humane way), this may not be a problem but ethically it is. We discuss this ethical dilemma and explore technological and niche market alternatives as possible solutions.


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