In the discussion about “ethical eggs” it is rare to hear much about the cruelty inherent in hatcheries, or of the smallest victims of the industry: male chicks.
Roughly half of all the chicks born each year are males, approximately 200 million in the US alone. A rooster of the egg-laying breed is of no financial value. He is too slow growing and lightly muscled to be used as a “meat bird”. He is unable to produce eggs and is not needed for breeding hens.
The industry standard is to macerate chicks in wood chippers or to gas them. Statistically, for every laying hen, including those in “free-range” or “cage-free” facilities, one male chick has been killed in the hatchery.
Intentional “euthanasia” is just one way chicks may die in a hatchery. Shortly after they are born, chicks are sent via conveyor belt for debeaking and sexing (separating males from females) shortly after hatching. Some chicks end up trapped amongst the shells and eggs in the hatching trays. These chicks suffer intense pain as they are sent through the scalding water spray intended to clean and disinfect the trays.
Debeaking is the amputation of the tip of the beak, which is full of sensitive, nerve-rich tissues. This is a routine procedure that female chicks go through at hatcheries. Many chicks suffer grave injuries to their tongues and/or have trauma to their mouths. Chicks can die after the procedure, either due to a botched debeaking that causes extensive bleeding or trauma, stress from the procedure or starvation and dehydration from being unable or unwilling to eat or drink due to the pain in their mouths.
The most textbook debeaking leaves chicks wounded, in pain and with a greatly reduced ability to use their beaks. Chicken’s beaks are equivalent to our hands – they are used to interact with the world. Debeaking robs chickens of a major source of sensory input.
Female chicks who survive the first few hours of their lives are shipped off to farms and consumers. They can be shipped via the United Postal Service. There are no laws in the United States regulating poultry transport. The fatality rate during transport is so high that hatcheries use extra chicks as “packing peanuts,” thus avoiding too much open space in boxes and ensuring the minimum ordered amount of chicks arrive alive.
Male or female, no chick born in a hatchery is spared from experiencing some form of fear, pain, or discomfort. No matter how “humane” the farm where your eggs are purchased, you must ask, “where do they get their chicks? What happens to the males?”
See more about the problems and cruelties involved in the commercial hatcheries at the following sites. Warning: some pictures and videos may be graphic.