The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 8, 2009

Male Chicks Macerated for Our Eggs — But We CAN Take Action!

Do your eggs come from a certified humane producer? Please read this article anyway because it may apply to you, too.

This post is not about plastic. And the information I’m going to share is gruesome, alarming, and heartbreaking. I’ve been sitting with this knowledge all weekend but didn’t want to write a post until I had more information and ideas for action that we can take. Please read on if you care about the welfare of farm animals, and especially if you enjoy eating eggs.

A Shocking Revelation

Last Thursday, Michael forwarded me an article and video about a practice that seems so cruel it takes my breath away. The article, “Video Shows Price of Cheap Eggs: Chicks Ground Up Alive” describes a video posted on YouTube by the group Mercy for Animals revealing some pretty inhumane conditions at a facility that hatches chicks for egg producers. The video, Undercover Investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery, shows chicks being roughly handled as they go down a conveyor belt as humans separate out the males from females, tossing the males down a chute where they fall into a machine called a macerator and are ground alive.

Apparently, this is a very common practice. The males are undesirable because a) they can’t lay eggs and b) the males of the species raised for eggs are not good meat producers. And apparently, this practice is considered humane by several regulatory agencies.

I was shocked, appalled, and sickened by what I saw. But I also thought I couldn’t be contributing to this problem because I get my eggs from the farmers market, from Glaum Egg Ranch, a certified humane egg producer. But just to be sure, I made some inquiries. I called and emailed both Glaum Egg Ranch and also Humane Farm Animal Care, the organization that certifies farms as humane. I wanted to know what standards existed about this practice, and I wanted to learn how Glaum treats its male chicks.

Certified Humane Does Not Apply to Hatcheries

What I learned is that Glaum doesn’t engage in this practice because it doesn’t hatch its own eggs. In fact, few egg producers do. They buy their eggs from pullet producers which buy their eggs from hatcheries. Which means that humane egg producers may be inadvertently supporting this practice through the chicks they buy! Since this news was revealed, Glaum has been doing its own investigating. They are as concerned about this practice as we are. I’m concerned that my certified humane eggs may have originated from chicks hatched at one of these inhumane facilities. And Humane Farm Animal Care does not have a standard for certifying hatcheries because it simply does not have the resources to do so.

I had a really great conversation this morning with Adele Douglass, Executive Director of Humane Animal Care, who explained to me a little history of the organization and how it came about. Adele had worked for many years in congress and for several organizations lobbying for the welfare of animals. Eventually, she got involved in rewriting agricultural guidelines, so she’s seen how slow the wheels of government turn. As a consumer, she felt overwhelmed and powerless by the mailings she would get from organizations like PETA, that simply offered no other alternative to consumers than complete veganism. She wanted to find a market solution, and that’s why she and several friends created the Certified Humane labelling program, investing all the money they had in something they believed in.

Humane Farm Animal Care is primarily concerned with the treatment of animals being raised for food and for eggs. You can read the details of the standards on their web site. And the organization actually audits every single farm that requests certification. Regarding hatcheries, here is what Adele wrote me:

We did not write hatchery standards because we did not have any control of the hatcheries. The farmers, as I said, purchase the birds from pullet growers. We do not have the resources to inspect all the pullet growers and then trace back and inspect all of the hatcheries in the US, considering the small number of farmers that are on our program. Every standard must be inspected and audited for. There is no point in writing standards unless you have the capacity to inspect, annually, each and every standard.

That said, the organization absolutely DOES NOT advocate the practice of live male chick maceration and would like to see it stopped.

We Can Take Action!

Besides eschewing eggs, there are other steps we can take to see that this practice is ended as soon as possible. Adele Douglass also told me that research is being done into a procedure for sexing male embryos so that the chicks do not have to actually be hatched and killed. She suggests we write to the Secretary of Agriculture to express our concerns about the treatment of male chicks and ask that funds be allocated for research into alternative methods for sexing males to avoid inhumane treatment.

Write to:

Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 200-A The Whittenberg Building
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am appalled by the practice of live male chick maceration that is routinely practiced in hatcheries. There is promising research on sexing embryos which would eliminate the current methods of male chick euthanasia. The USDA can help end this inhumane practice by putting funds toward research into sexing embryos. I would like to see this procedure developed as soon as possible to end the suffering and waste created by the painful destruction of so many live birds.


Beth Terry

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7 years ago

But the new process simply kills them before they hatch. It’s still that same situation. We still have to kill the males.

8 years ago

Also — where does the by product of 7 billion mscerated baby chicks go — who makes money off that!?!

8 years ago

If safe for human consumption, could hens be fed something to only produce female eggs — or would that negatively impact whoever makes money on this? Also — are there alternative egg choices that don’t include this practice?

Beth Terry
9 years ago

yuki1 I felt sad when I learned that about dairy, too. I visited a local, organic dairy to see how the cows were treated. If you’re interested, here’s what I wrote about it:

9 years ago

More on topic: organic chicken could be raised with antibiotics.

9 years ago

Totally off-topic but it’s the same problem with dairy. I’m not eating dairy anymore but when I was, I tried to buy organic dairy because I thought the animals would be treated better (and also because it would be better for my health) but that’s not the case at all. Even if the milking cow are treated better, they still need to have calves for them to produce milk and most of them are sold to veal producers. These veal producers can have the worst kind of treatment for the calf. Let me tell you I stopped eating veal at once when I learned about what they do.

9 years ago

Does anyone know what companies use Hy-Line Hatchery? I can’t seem to find this info online. I’d like to start a boycott against any egg vendors that use them. If we vote with our dollars they have to change their ways.

11 years ago

No, I’m not a vegan/vegetarian, yell at me if you want. I live near countless FAMILY farms that raise and slaughter their own animals, but those animals are treated so kindly and with respect because the farmers who raise them understand their value. I’m not against eating animals or what comes from them, so long as they are treated with respect and live in the best possible conditions before and are killed in the most humane way possible.
What I am against is this: The killing of animals simply for profit/sport/no apparent reason. If you aren’t going to treat an animal humanely and with respect don’t freaking own an animal. Plain and simple. Factory farms and hatcheries like this make me sick. Baby chicks should NOT be ground up alive or treated like that, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a fan of chickens in general. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason I just don’t like chickens. But that doesn’t mean I want to throw a ton of baby chicks into a wood chipper. No, humans need to learn that just because we are slightly more intellectually advanced than some other species, we still need to learn that every life has value. Humans need to wake up, we’re not all we’re cracked up to be. Think about it:
Humans can’t lift 20X’s their own weight, but a tiny ant can.
Humans can’t run over 70mph, a cheetah can.
Humans can’t fly, crows and bats can.
Humans couldn’t survive if we were thrown into the woods alone, a housecat can.
And humans can’t love someone like a pet can, or love each other like animals do. Watch any video, in fact, here’s a link:

Sometimes I wonder why I belong to such a cruel species. At least nature has a reason. But I remember, it’s so I can help all the little animals, one by one.

12 years ago

I used to work at a bio-secure hatchery sexing ducklings. This was the hatchery that hatched the breeders for the food chain ducks. Every other week the company geneticist came in to do the ‘special’ ducks which, I’m assuming were genetically toyed with in some way. Anyway, any duckling that had black feathers was ‘culled’ or ‘humanely destroyed’ . YEAH RIGHT! They were put in a grinder. What’s crazy is these are Peking ducks which molt and the new adult feathers are white naturally when they become adults. I asked why they had to be killed and was told b/c they sell the down to companies that sell/produce feather pillows and comforters and they don’t want the black feathers in their products b/c it doesn’t look as nice. So, basically these poor babies are destroyed over a pillow or blanket. What this really goes to show, is that no matter how ‘green’ we think we are , there is always something we never thought of that’s damaging to nature or inhumane in some way . I will never buy a down pillow or comforter again b/c of this.
As far as eggs, I would purchase mine from a local farm and now that we are moving to the country, we will be raising our own chickens to be treated humanely.

14 years ago


You provided the wrong address.

I found two possibilities:
Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 200-A, Jamie L. Whitten Building
12th Street and Jefferson Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20250

The latter is from Senator Dick Durbin's website so I think the building name is probably correct.


Woman with a Hatchet
14 years ago

Hillary, we've been genetically selecting poultry for hundreds and hundreds of years – it's just gotten faster in the last 40 years. The chickens that produce the vast majority of eggs we eat are Leghorns. The generally make about an egg a day and are considered heavy layers. Many other heritage breeds, while cuter and with better personalities, produce an egg every 3rd day or so.

I think GM veggies are wrong and rather scary because of the law of unintended consequences. Pollen can be carried on the wind and by insects and birds to contaminate other fields miles and miles away. Genetically selected poultry? Not so much. Given my druthers, I'd have my own flock of heritage chickens, but my city won't allow it.

If there was some way to keep the male chicks from hatching, it would be a massive boon to the industry, a vast cost savings and that would be the end of the macerations. Is it the MORAL thing to do? Well, if ALL consumers really cared about the morality of it, we'd insist on returning to the original agrarian mode (farms carefully raising a mixture of animals and food and rotating crops, etc.). However, just like the vegetarian/vegan question above, that's not likely to happen. Or at least unlikely unless something catastrophic happens.

In the meantime, send letters. Choose the more expensive, humanely raised chickens and eggs and keep insisting on better treatment for farm animals and support the farmers doing it right.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hillary, I know. It's weird. But consider the alternative. They're already doing it after the fact, killing live male chicks that can feel pain. As long as Americans demand cheap eggs in such large quantities, hatcheries will continue this inhumane practice. At least destroying embryos is less destructive, wasteful, and cruel than destroying live chicks.

14 years ago

Hi, Beth – I don't have much to add to this conversation except that I'm a little troubled by the implications of sex selection for embryos or sperm – it seems a less than ideal solution. Is it really our place to be engineering a species to produce more females than males, any more than engineering corn or tomatoes?

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Cousin Yellowstone, thanks for your reasoned and reasonable comments. I am sure my response to Anonymous was based on an emotional reaction. I felt like I was being accused of not caring about farm animals, when I fact I just written a post demonstrating that I do care about farm animals. I objected to the hostile tone of the comment, I guess.

And yes, I am sure that there are plenty of things I don't understand about farmed animals. I always want to learn more.

One thing you said which I agree with whole-heartedly:

"However, treating farmed animals as well as Arya and Soots results in animal products that can be afforded only as a special treat."

Yes. Which is why I wrote in my comment, "I do believe that animals raised for food should be treated with respect and that animal products should be eaten in moderation, as some (like beef) take a heavy toll on the environment." We don't need to eat meat every day, as some believe, and certainly we don't need to eat animal goods at every meal, as many people believe.

Do you think that if we all cut back significantly on the amount of meat, dairy, and eggs we consume, there would be less need for inhumane farm practices?

Regarding plastic, as you know, I still use some plastic. My electronics are plastic. But I cut back significantly on the amount I buy. I ask myself constantly, "Do I really need this?" I don't upgrade every time the latest and greatest computer or phone is released. That's kind of the same.

When plastic-free options are available, I advocate them. When they are not available, I want us to ask ourselves if we really need the products or if we can ask for plastic-free alternatives. As with meat products, the real issue is overconsumption. Would you agree with that?

Cousin Yellowstone
14 years ago

Anonymous and Beth, do you mind if I jump into your conversation? I wouldn't normally do this, but I feel like there may be some miscommunication going on between the two of you.

First, let me address Anonymous. Anonymous, I can completely understand your feelings about Beth not being a vegetarian. It's jarring when someone we see as a kindred spirit on one issue (in this case, plastic) turns out not to be on the same page as us on another issue. Beth has experienced the same thing herself, e.g., when her meditation teacher was drinking from a plastic bottle.

Anonymous, Beth's reaction to learning about maceration is proof that she does care about animals and will act upon information she learns. I would suggest that if you want to encourage her to change her diet, you inform her about other aspects of "humane" agriculture that she might not be aware of. Perhaps she will become a vegetarian, and perhaps not, but either way, she'll be better able to understand why you see animal agriculture as being as bad as what happened to that poor pelican.

Now, let me turn to Beth. Beth, you have made a thorough study of the issues involved with plastic, and have reached the conclusion that there is no "good" plastic. You recognize that some plastics are recognized as safer than others, and that some uses of plastic have more justification than others, but you seldom suggest to your readers that they switch from one type of plastic to another. Instead, you urge us to avoid all plastic.

There are people who have studied "humane" farming as thoroughly as you have studied plastic, and concluded that there's no such thing as humanely produced commercial eggs. Obviously, some farming methods are worse than others, and if a person is going to eat eggs, it's better that they come from a less-cruel farm than a factory farm. However, just as you don't advocate that your readers drink water from Deer Park's Eco-Shape bottles (which are supposedly better for the environment than regular Deer Park bottles), people like Anonymous feel they can't in good conscience support "humane" farms.

Beth, I think Anonymous is assuming you know things about "humane" farming that you may not actually know. These things are known mostly to rural people and vegans, and have not received much mainstream exposure. Among vegans, one thing often discussed is debeaking, which causes lasting pain yet is inflicted upon many cage-free chickens. Another thing vegans are often aware of is the extreme lack of space given to many "free range" and "cage-free" chickens. See for details of these practices (including illustrative photographs). Another issue is the breeding that has resulted in small chickens producing large eggs, with negative consequences for the chickens. I think Anonymous was comparing the suffering of the pelican to the daily suffering of virtually all farmed chickens, even those on "humane" farms.

In principle, I'm not opposed to animal agriculture. If farmed animals can be treated as well as Arya and Soots, then I'm all for it. However, treating farmed animals as well as Arya and Soots results in animal products that can be afforded only as a special treat. Personally, I find it easier to eat vegan meals than buy eggs that are produced in a truly humane manner.

Beth, you write that, "The fact is that the majority of people are not going to switch to veganism." I fear that you're correct about that, just as I fear that the majority of people are not going to stop buying plastic. Whether we should focus our advocacy efforts on getting people to switch to "safer" plastics and "humane" eggs or instead advocate for plastic-free, vegan living is an issue well worth discussing. My own belief is that although few people will be convinced to give up plastic or animal products altogether, we CAN get people to cut down on both, and that's where I focus my efforts.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Thanks, Catherine. I have written to Animal Welfare Approved and checked out their site. I'm not sure they have a standard for hatcheries either, but I'll let you know what I find out.

Keep in mind: the issue is not how adult birds are treated. There are standards for those, and we can buy Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane eggs and be assured the adult hens were well-treated. The issue is about the hatcheries that produce the chicks that later produce the eggs. They are not the same thing.

14 years ago

Catherine Price, New York Times wrote

For eggs from chickens that live in the sort of utopia conveyed by the images on most egg cartons, look for Animal Welfare Approved. Available in limited markets, it is a new label that is given only to independent family farmers. Flocks can have no more than 500 birds, and chickens over 4 weeks old must be able to spend all their time outside on pesticide-free pasture with a variety of vegetation. They must have access to dust baths and cannot have their beaks trimmed (a practice on crowded egg farms) or be fed animal byproducts.

14 years ago

I raise my own laying hens, primarily because I am apalled at the conditions that factory chickens live in. I've had chicks develop into roosters, and I slaughtered and ate them.

I don't see the problem with killing them at a younger age, and the grinder seems as quick painless as my hatchet.

Factory farming is an epic waste of energy, it concentrates animal waste to the point where it is toxic, and it causes animals to suffer, and unhealthy animals don't produce healthy food. These are all reasons to choose sustainably raised meat and eggs. But don't kid yourself into thinking that you're saving any young cockrels.

14 years ago

Hello Beth,
Thanks for addressing this important subject!
Learning about the egg industry was the main motivator for me to change my shopping habits to put my money where the good is happening (in all food groups!).
Most people don't realize that these disgusting practices are happening as a result of the majority of the population voting with our wallets. It is very sad.
I actually found a local guy on Craigslist who raises them in his backyard and sells the overage. I was so surpised to see how healthy, bright and beautiful the yolks are when the chickens are allowed to forage for insects in a natural setting.
Take Care,

Martin at Plasticless
14 years ago

Farmer's Daughter had a good idea that has a fatal flaw. In poultry, it is the females that are heterozygous for the sex determining genes. This means that there is only 'male sperm'.

The specialized strains of poultry for either egg or meat production is a relatively new thing in the long history of animal agriculture. Mixed farms used to have dual purpose breeds that were adequate layers and also made an adequate chicken dinner. Luckily for us there are enthusiasts maintaining a small number of heritage breeds around the worlds.

It would be great to see a return to small farming with dual purpose chickens, but it would require a dependable market that was willing to pay the true cost of meat and egg production. It must be a lot higher than the cheap stuff.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Dear Anonymous, I really wish you would leave your name so I know who I'm talking to. You wrote:

"I find it ironic that someone who would get so upset about a pelican with a stomach full of plastic has no problem supporting animal agriculture which, even when they aren't putting chicks into a wood chipper, is full of everyday cruelty and horror."

What have you seen in any of my posts that gives you the impression that I have "no problem" supporting animal agriculture? What is it that you are assuming to be the truth about me and the way that I live? In fact, this very post is one example of the fact that I am very concerned with how animals are raised.

"Being vegan is so much easier than being completely plastic free and at least, if no more so, better for the environment and the reduction of suffering."

Maybe yes. Maybe no. The fact is that the majority of people are not going to switch to veganism.

Look, I don't believe that eating animal products is inherently wrong. I do believe that animals raised for food should be treated with respect and that animal products should be eaten in moderation, as some (like beef) take a heavy toll on the environment. Factory farming is not only cruel, but it's unsustainable. We certainly don't need to eat meat in the amounts that typical Americans do.

But preaching veganism doesn't help in any but philosophical ways. If I believed it was immoral to eat animal products, I would be a vegan. But I wouldn't pretend to think that my being a vegan was going to end the suffering of farm animals without radical policy changes from above.

This is why I have been writing lately about how individual actions are important but not enough. This is why I am asking the readers of the this post, whether they are vegans or not, to write to the Secretary of Agriculture to ask that the practice of male chick maceration be stopped.

Most people are not going to stop eating eggs. But we can require hatcheries to stop grinding up live chicks. And we can purchase eggs from producers that provide humane living conditions for their hens.

Plastic is a different story. Plastic, especially disposable plastic, is detrimental to us and the environment, and I can't find anything nourishing in it. This is why I have given up plastic. But this is also why I am supporting plastic bag and bottled water bans. My plastic fast, like your animal foods fast, alone is not enough.

14 years ago

This isn't news, the killing of male chicks in the egg industry (and yes, even in the "happy" "humane" industry) has been going on a long, long time.

I find it ironic that someone who would get so upset about a pelican with a stomach full of plastic has no problem supporting animal agriculture which, even when they aren't putting chicks into a wood chipper, is full of everyday cruelty and horror. Being vegan is so much easier than being completely plastic free and at least, if no more so, better for the environment and the reduction of suffering.

Citizen Green
14 years ago

This makes me glad I have hens (I call them my girls.) that provide our household with delicious eggs. In Indiana some cities are considering changing their laws (anti-chicken!!) to allow hens in the city limits. People want better quality eggs.

14 years ago

Thanks for posting this, Beth! I used to work in Platteville, Colorado, where many of my students' parents worked on the biggest egg farm in Colorado. They told me stories that would make you absolutely sick. I was convinced by this telling fact – most of the kids whose parents worked on the farm actually raised their own chickens at home, and wouldn't eat anything else. Luckily, teaching in rural schools has made it pretty easy for me to always have one or two kids each year who supply me with homegrown eggs. I'll happily pay $5 per dozen for eggs raised right. Of course, who knows where the original stock came from, but at least we know it's a humane practice now, and self-sustaining. I wish more people understood this problem. Thanks for doing this!

Cousin Yellowstone
14 years ago

Beth, thank you for bringing attention to the horrors inflicted upon male chicks.

I used to seek out humanely-produced eggs, but found it much easier and cheaper to eat vegan meals instead. Vegan foodstuffs are widely available these days, although, alas, many of the most delicious come packaged in plastic.

I've met people who are overwhelmed by the prospect of completely giving up eggs and other animal products, and feel compelled to point out that, as with plastic, there's value in cutting down on consumption even if the products aren't eliminated from one's life altogether. So, for example, even if you still eat a hard boiled egg once in a while, it's worthwhile to eliminate eggs when baking cakes, which can be done in many instances by adding some banana, apple sauce, or cornstarch.

The Vegetarian Resource Group has some outstanding information on vegan nutrition and cooking at I highly recommend that web site to anyone who is thinking about cutting down on animal products.

Woman with a Hatchet
14 years ago

Thanks for the letter to Sec'y Vilsack, Beth. I'm glad to see there's something we can actually do to possibly help.

I already buy eggs that are certified humanely raised, but like a whole lot of other folks, never really considered what happened in the hatcheries. I hope we can make a change to the current system by speaking up.

14 years ago

Stupid Hatcheries…Don't you know with out the males you get no females? Or am I mistaking basic Biology? I am so getting so close to getting my 3 hens- Of course I have no way of knowing if there hatcheries engages this policy.

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

So sad Beth. I had no idea. I will write a letter too. I stopped eating mammals 15 years ago and only eat organic, pasture raised poultry and some fish (not on the over-fishing list) – for the same reasons here – inhuman practices. Now, to think that my "good" eggs may have a history and be connected to such gruesome practice is very upsetting. It reminds me of the genocide in China with female babies. Putting value on one sex over another is not a very enlightened way to live. (I am certainly not comparing human lives with an animal raised for food – but pointing out that all life is valuable – even if we eat it – it should be respected.) The human race can be very cruel.

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

I was discussing this with my dad the other day. He was saying that in the dairy industry, they use sexed sperm for artificial insemination, since male dairy calves are about as worthless as male laying hens. They have about an 80% female calf rate, which is much better than the approx. 50% natural rate.

I don't know much about chickens, but I thought they used AI, too. So perhaps they can use sexed sperm to eliminate having so many male chicks (even better than sexing embryos…I see it leading to chicken abortion protests, haha). Just an idea.

My husband and I have been tossing around the idea of getting our own laying hens, and he's now promised me to build a coop in the spring. We'll have to look for a hatchery that doesn't use this practice…

If a hatchery doesn't use that practice, how do they deal with male chicks? Are they killed some other way?

14 years ago

That definitely makes the B.J. cry.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Oh crap. I was afraid that part might not be understood. Yes, eggs from Glaum might support the practice even though Glaum doesn't engage in it directly. They probably do. Which is why I and Glaum are upset. I will reword the post as soon as I can get back to a computer.

Green In OC
14 years ago

I have a question about this "…Glaum doesn't engage in this practice because it doesn't hatch its own eggs."

From what little I understand, egg producers purchase chicks from hatcheries.

So are we really safe if a farm doesn't engage in this practice – they may be purchasing chicks from hatcheries?

If Glaum (insert any name here) doesn't purchase from hatcheries, where do they get chicks from when they need them?

Thanks for this info!

This, in addition to the "vegetarian" feed fed to chickens is one more reason I really want to have a little land and raise my own!