Animal Aid

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHICKENS - The dark secret of commercial egg production

Posted 1 March 2004

The following article by Claudia Tarry is reproduced from the Spring 2004 issue of Outrage - Animal Aid's quarterly magazine which is sent to all Animal Aid members. To find out more about joining Animal Aid click here.

By the time you read this article, card shops are already likely to be filled with images of ducklings splashing merrily in the rain and little yellow fluffballs peering out from cracked egg shells. Easter will soon be upon us.

Newly hatched chicks being inspected before being 'sexed'. Photo credit: Poultry World.

Unfortunately, the real egg industry doesn't present such a pretty picture as the scenes depicted on greetings cards. In fact, it is responsible for a practice that remains one of intensive farming's most tragic dirty secrets. Each year, approximately 30 million day-old chicks are killed, considered worthless because they are male.

This shocking creation and destruction of life comes about because different types of chicken are used for meat and egg production: broiler (meat) chickens put on weight much faster than egg-laying hens. Male chicks of the breed used for egg production are condemned as useless by the industry because they obviously can't lay eggs and neither do they put on weight quickly enough to be considered economically viable for meat production.

From hatchery to death

A chick's life starts at a hatchery, which will breed one or the other type of chicken depending on which industry it supplies. Breeding hens lay millions of eggs, which are taken away to develop inside giant industrial incubators.

The birds are sexed prior to the destruction of the males. Photo credit: Poultry World

Once the eggs have hatched, newborn chicks pass down a production line to be sexed and sorted by factory workers who sift through, picking out the males and any others who look weak or sickly. These 'rejects' are tossed into giant sacks or crates, where they risk slow suffocation or being crushed by their fellow rejects.

DEFRA - the government department responsible for farming - offers a matter-of-fact explanation for what happens next:

Male chicks sent for gassing. Photo credit: Poultry World

"Hatcheries dispose of day-old chicks, either because they are unhealthy or because they are male chicks not wanted for the production of eggs... Only methods of killing which have been assessed as humane are permitted to be used. Unpleasant though it may seem, mechanical destruction of chicks is instantaneous and chicks do not suffer...

"The machine used is a macerator which kills the chicks instantly, reducing them to small particles within a fraction of a second."

'Macerators' are actually giant shredding machines made up of spinning blades into which the chicks are thrown. Other hatcheries gas their chicks - a process which can take up to 15 minutes before death.

A representative from a major chick producer reluctantly admitted that they 'disposed' of their chicks by shredding them, but would not discuss the matter in detail. Indeed, she even suggested that the public does not need to know what happens to the males. The company supplies 75% of their chicks to battery egg farms, with the remaining 25% going to alternative systems such as so-called free-range, organic or barn-housed.

Whether destined for the mincing machine, the gas chamber, a battery cage or barn, chicks go from shell to hell. Whichever way you look at it, egg production methods are never cruelty-free.

Our new leaflet on egg production will be soon be available for distribution - check back for updates.

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