From the end of 2021, the killing of chicks when rearing laying hens is to be prohibited by law in Germany. Two companies from Westmünsterland have already implemented this on their own responsibility. At the Vriesen-Hof in Bocholt and at the Althues farm in Rosendahl, eggs have been laid by hens since last year whose brothers were not killed immediately after they hatched.
The number is not unknown: 45 million male chicks are killed in Germany every year after they hatch. The sober explanation for this is that these breeds do not cook meat well, the roosters naturally do not lay eggs and are therefore economically worthless. In fact, Germany will be the first country in the world to want to abolish this ethically more than questionable method of raising laying hens.
The two farmers Dietrich Vriesen and Henrik Althues decided last year not to buy any more hens from farms that kill chicks. Even if it is not yet economically viable. But for them this discussion is not about making money. They have to generate the additional costs by selling the eggs.
“From an ethical point of view, it is a catastrophe that the male chicks have no right to exist. In recent years the topic has become more important and I see it as my duty to work on alternatives, ”says Henrik Althues.
The farm in Rosendahl has been family-owned for over 200 years. Judith and Henrik Althues have taken care of the modernization since they took over the farm twelve years ago and pay particular attention to sustainability. Of their roughly 37.000 laying hens, 80 percent live in free-range or organic farming. And now Henrik Althues has the brother taps open in a partner company. These are fattened for 80 to 100 days because the laying hen breeds do not put on meat that quickly. Here, too, it is about sustainability, because in conventional fattening the animals are already slaughtered after half the time.
“The brother roosters are also farm animals, we use their meat. But as long as they live, they deserve to be treated with respect. We want to initiate the discussion that animals should not be a waste product, ”Althues explains the idea behind rearing male chicks.
His colleague Dietrich Vriesen, on the other hand, works with companies that have the sex of the chick determined in the egg so that only the females are hatched. Both variants ensure that the male chicks are not gassed after hatching. “We implemented that in summer 2020. We have been pursuing this topic for years, animal welfare is important to us. But these technical possibilities did not exist in the past, ”says Dietrich Vriesen.
In the laboratory, sex determination can now be carried out from the sixth day of incubation. To do this, a tiny drop of liquid is removed by laser, which does not damage the egg.
The Vriesen farm, on which around 120.000 chickens live, has to pay the license fee for this process directly for a whole year. In other words: Vriesen, like Althues, had to spend a lot of money and now charge about four cents more per egg in order to be able to implement the project. It has not yet been said whether customers will support this. Both farmers know that although many consumers speak out in favor of animal welfare, they do not necessarily do this when shopping.
Althues and Vriesen are both members of the Münsterland seal, which distinguishes products from the region, and value an ethical company philosophy. For example, the Vriesen-Hof participates in the “Schnabel NRW” pilot project and, like the Althues family, does not cut the animals' beaks. Both farmers are convinced that they are on the right track. Henrik Althues recently even hired a cook who develops tasty recipes for the Bruderhahn meat. The products - and this is where the sustainability circle purchase closes - will then be available in the Althues'schen farm shop, among other places.