The United Egg Producers (UEP) announced in June that it was encouraging the development of alternative practices to male chick culling, with the goal of complete elimination of the practice by 2020 or “as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.” At the time, UEP said it was aware of a number of international research initiatives underway, but none had hit the marketplace.
While a launch isn’t expected until late 2017, Ovabrite, a new subsidiary of Vital Farms, the nation’s leading brand of pasture-raised eggs, in partnership with Novatrans, a technology company based in Tel Aviv, Israel, announced Oct. 28 the introduction of TeraEgg.
The industry has practiced male chick culling because males from laying hen breeds are very inefficient meat producers.
Ovabrite’s TeraEgg detects gender and fertility in the chicken embryo development process, allowing hatcheries to remove male and infertile eggs before they enter incubation so they can be repurposed for human consumption rather than destroyed post-incubation.
“While chick culling has long been an accepted practice in the egg industry, Vital Farms has been working for years alongside industry experts and animal welfare groups to evaluate and identify potential solutions to this practice,” said Matt O’Hayer, founder and chief executive officer of Vital Farms. “TeraEgg has the potential to be one of the greatest advancements in the recent history of animal welfare.”
TeraEgg promises to be the first viable solution to detect gender and fertility in eggs before incubation by analyzing organic compounds obtained through a proprietary technique developed by Vital Farms’ spin-off Ovabrite in conjunction with Novatrans, a leader in terahertz-based applications.
TeraEgg recently completed its early testing phase, making use of Novatrans’ terahertz spectroscopy to enable a non-invasive solution to the male chick culling practice that is currently the egg industry standard worldwide. By eliminating the practice of culling, the product will reduce energy costs and labor without disrupting hatchery operations and will create new revenue streams for hatcheries.
By spinning off Ovabrite as a separate entity, the entire industry – and global chick population - can benefit from this technology. As the worldwide demand for eggs continues to grow, so does the demand for female laying hens for production. Every increase in egg demand requires a twofold increase in hatched chicks, since half those chicks will be male.
“Animal welfare groups have long decried chick culling, but it makes a lot of sense to end the practice from a hatchery’s perspective, too,” said Paul Knepper, president of Ovabrite. “We estimate the value of wasted eggs – male and infertile – to be at least $440 million annually, with an additional $70-plus million in labor and energy to incubate and sex those eggs. I can’t think of another industry where you build out a product solely to destroy half of it before it ever ships. TeraEgg is giving these hatcheries a way to eliminate all that waste and produce additional revenue off of all their eggs instead of just half.”
Successful completion of the early testing phase represents a major milestone for TeraEgg. Ovabrite will commence with scaled tests and will begin commercial product development with an anticipated launch in late 2017.