Chick culling is the process of killing newly hatched poultry for which the industry has no use. It occurs in all industrialised egg production whether free range, organic, or battery cage - including that of the UK and US. Because male chickens do not lay eggs and only those on breeding programmes are required to fertilise eggs, they are considered redundant to the egg-laying industries and are usually killed soon after they hatch and shortly after being sexed. Methods of culling do not involve anaesthetic and include cervical dislocation, asphyxiation by carbon dioxide and maceration using a high speed grinder.
Due to modern selective breeding, laying hen strains differ from meat production strains (broilers). Both male and females are grown in broiler production, therefore chick culling does not happen routinely in this industry.
Chicks are also culled in the production of foie gras. However, because males put on more weight than females in this production system, the females are culled.
Prior to the development of modern broiler meat breeds, most male chickens (cockerels) were slaughtered for meat, whereas females (pullets) would be kept for egg production. However, once the industry bred separate meat and egg-producing hybrids, there was no reason to keep males of the egg-producing hybrid. As a consequence, the males of egg-laying chickens are killed as soon as possible after hatching and sexing to reduce losses incurred by the breeder. Special techniques have been developed to accurately determine the sex of chicks at as young an age as possible.
It has been reported that in India for example, more than 180 million male chicks per year are culled. The egg industry in India is growing at the rate of 8-12% yearly, and is the third largest egg producer.
Chicks are also culled in the production of foie gras. After hatching, the ducklings are sexed. Males put on more weight than females, so the females are killed, sometimes in an industrial macerator. Up to 40 million female ducks per year may be killed in this way. The remains of female ducklings are later used in cat food, fertilisers and in the pharmaceutical industry.
Several methods are used to cull chicks:
- Maceration; the chicks are placed into a large high-speed grinder.
- Gases or gas mixtures; carbon dioxide is used to induce unconsciousness and then death.
- Cervical dislocation; the neck is broken.
- Electrocution; an electric current is passed through the chick's body until it is dead.
- Suffocation; the chicks are placed in plastic bags.
US recommended methods
The 2005-2006 American Veterinary Medical Association Executive Board proposed a policy change, which was recommended by the Animal Welfare Committee on disposal of unwanted chicks, poults, and pipped eggs. The policy states "Unwanted chicks, poults, and pipped eggs should be killed by an acceptable humane method, such as use of a commercially designed macerator that results in instantaneous death. Smothering unwanted chicks or poults in bags or containers is not acceptable. Pips, unwanted chicks, or poults should be killed prior to disposal. A pipped egg, or pip, is one where the chick or poult has not been successful in escaping the egg shell during the hatching process."
Animal rights and animal welfare advocates maintain that many of the current practices surrounding chicken slaughtering are unethical.
A Unilever spokesperson has been quoted as saying "We have also committed to providing funding and expertise for research and introduction of alternative methods such as in-ovo gender identification (sexing) of eggs. This new technology offers the potential to eliminate the hatching and culling of male chicks."
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- Baby chicks ground alive.