7 July 1995

Cost of sex is £185m

A SEX problem is costing the European poultry industry £185m a year. But major companies have done nothing to fund research by scientists, close to a solution.

The problem is male chicks, unwanted for egg laying flocks and killed or sold at 1p each to zoos.

"It has cost 37p to bring each of these chicks to day-old. Five hundred million are produced in Europe each year, 40m of them in the UK," said Ray Noble, from the Scottish Agricultural College.

But, working with Manchester Universitys Prof Mark Ferguson, Mr Noble has found a way of changing the sex of chicks before they hatch.

"We started from work on alligators which showed they had no sex chromosomes, and that the sex of offspring was controlled by incubation temperature," said Mr Noble.

"Although hens have sex chromosomes we have been able to use the same temperature control technique to influence the number of males or females hatched. Lowering the temperature gives more males and raising the temperature increases the percentage of females.

"We have reached the stage of getting 65% males by incubation control but, although we have had some success increasing female numbers, raising the incubation temperature has given high mortality rates," said Mr Noble.

Allan Wright