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Chick culling is the process of killing newly hatched poultry for which the industry has no use. Due to modern selective breeding, laying hen strains differ from meat production strains. As male birds of the laying strain do not lay eggs and are not suitable for meat production, they are generally killed soon after they hatch and shortly after being sexed. Methods of culling include cervical dislocation, asphyxiation by carbon dioxide and maceration using a high speed grinder.
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 hybids, there was no reason to keep males of the egg-producing hybrid. As a consequence, the males of egg-laying chickens are euthanised 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.
Several methods can be used to kill chicks:
Maceration ensures the chick is killed within 1 sec if performed effectively and competently. This method is considered more humane than gassing the chicks with high concentrations of carbon dioxide. Gassing results in gasping and head shaking, and can take up to two minutes for the chick to die.
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 activists maintain that many of the current practices surrounding chicken slaughtering are unethical and pointless.
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."