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


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


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

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:


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


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… Read more »


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.


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… Read more »


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… Read more »



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

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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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.


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

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… Read more »

Cousin Yellowstone

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.… Read more »

Beth Terry

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.


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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… Read more »

Martin at Plasticless

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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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… Read more »


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

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.


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… Read more »

Cousin Yellowstone

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… Read more »

Woman with a Hatchet

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.


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

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… Read more »

Farmer's Daughter

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… Read more »


That definitely makes the B.J. cry.

Beth Terry

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

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!