What is chick maceration?

What happens to male chicks in the egg industry?
Chicks of egg-laying breeds are sexed on their first day of life at the hatchery. This is necessary since male chicks cannot lay eggs and will not be a part of the egg-laying industry.

What do hatcheries do with male chicks?
Sadly, male chicks are currently an unwanted by-product of egg production. Male chicks in hatcheries are euthanized in the most humane way possible. At present, this could be through exposure to certain gasses or via a process known as maceration.

Are male chicks ground up alive?
It’s upsetting to think of young chicks being killed at all, and if not carried out humanely, both ethical and welfare issues might be raised. Whilst, maceration is a legally permitted method of euthanasia in the UK at present, the majority, if not all, male laying hen chicks in Britain are killed using gas.

What happens to male chicks in the egg-laying industry?
It is our understanding that euthanised male chicks in the egg-laying industry are widely used as food for birds of prey, exotic pets, owl rescue centres and other captive wild animals.

What happens to the female chicks on egg-laying facilities?
Once they hatch and are sorted the female chicks (known as pullets at this point) are transferred to barns where they grow to a suitable size, and from there on to a laying facility, for RSPCA Assured chicks this will be free-range, organic or barn set up. For a more detailed picture, check out our page on the life of an egg on an RSPCA Assured farm.

How are male chicks killed?
The majority of male chicks in the UK are currently killed using an inert gas, but maceration is also allowed. As of writing this, there are no RSPCA Assured egg-laying hen hatcheries currently using maceration.

Why do we not eat male chickens?
Chickens used in the egg-laying industry are a different breed to those in the meat industry. Male chicks born in the egg-laying industry will not grow to produce large breast muscles and legs, and therefore, are not reared for meat, although they may be used as food for exotic pet and birds of prey.

Do we eat male or female chickens?
Chickens raised in the meat industry have been bred to grow very fast with large breast and leg muscles, since egg production is not a factor in the meat industry, we can eat both males and females. This is, obviously, different for males in the egg-laying industry.

Why are male chickens not suitable for meat?
Male chickens in the meat industry are suitable to be eaten. There is no selection process in the meat industry based on gender. In the egg-laying industry, the male chickens which cannot lay eggs are also unsuitable for the meat industry since they are from a breed that does not grow large breast and leg muscles.

What are the alternatives?
We are pleased to see that research is being carried out to look into ways of sexing chicks at an early stage, whilst still in the egg. These new technologies aim to do the sexing and disposal before the embryo can feel pain, which happens at around nine days. We are following these developments with interest.

Which methods to the RSPCA permit to be used?
At the time of writing this article, there are no RSPCA Assured egg farms using maceration as a means of killing unwanted male chicks. Although, according to RSPCA standards, maceration would be an accepted means of euthanasia; whilst not a pleasant process to think about, the evidence shows that it is instant and painless, and therefore humane. Having said this, it is also a practice we hope will one day no longer be necessary.

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