The cockerel conundrum - a Reply

Chicken

Dear Madam, dear Sir,

I would like to thank you for the articles by Alan Holtham and Fred Harms in the December 2014 edition of Practical Poultry. In my view both articles were long overdue, because they highlight the serious flip-side of keeping chickens: the pressing issue of "what to do with the cockerels" both, in the commercial production process for layers as well as with us hobby poultry keepers. I strongly agree that we are often "lulled away" by the prospect of hatching cute and cuddly, fluffy chicks, when it comes to preparing our incubators in spring: We often forget the fact that at least 50% of the chicks are cockerels – what to do with them?

Since years I follow the discussions around the disposal of day-old male chicks in the commercial production of layers. Please allow me to add a few recent observations from Germany into the highly sensitive discussion of culling male day-old chicks in commercial hatcheries. As Fred Harms rightly points out, for every hen a day-old brother has to be culled. The public outcry on this highly controversial practice has lead to recent changes in German law. Especially the “Bruder Hahn” Initiative has contributed to publicizing this issue to the wider public.

Since Germany is a federal country of 16 more or less sovereign states (“The Unites States of Germany”) each one of them has its own legal system. In 2013 the state parliament of Northrhine-Westfalia (Sueddeutsche) and in 2014 Hessen passed animal welfare acts whereby from 1. January 2015 the culling of day-old male chicks will be an offence on grounds of animal welfare. Although these two states only play a very minor role in the production of layers, the political signal is enormous and shows the power we consumers have.

Still, what is missing is an alternative, commercially viable dual purpose chicken, as demanded by Fred Harms. Hens need to be good layers and their brothers need to develop into acceptable table birds; as they were up until in the 1960’s, when the commercial poultry world split into the broiler and layer industry. So far the genetics excludes one from the other.

However, there could be a solution arising at the horizon: a few months ago Lohmann Tierzucht, the world largest breeder of commercial layers has (re-)launched a new ‘product’ to their portfolio: Lohmann Dual. This new commercial hybrid could potentially combine satisfying (however, not overly brilliant) egg laying performances and acceptable meat production of the cockerels. Let us all hope that this new modern dual purpose chicken can help to minimize the irresponsible disposal of day-old chicks in the future. Let us all think twice before switching on the incubator and act as responsible guardians of our male chicks.