Why We’re Asking Egg Companies to Count Their Chickens Before They Hatch

May 31, 2024

chicks in a factory farm

Over 600 million chicks are hatched every year in the U.S. egg industry. Half of those chicks become the 300 million hens laying eggs for U.S. consumption, and most of the hens spend their lives packed tightly in wire cages. But this is only half the animal welfare story in the business of egg production — for each hen hatched into the industry, there was also a male chick at one time. Half of the chicks hatched to supply the egg industry are female. The other half are male chicks who do not lay eggs and are considered to have no purpose. They are routinely, brutally killed at hatcheries in mind-bending numbers: over 310 million of these newborn chicks are killed each year, usually ground or macerated alive in a machine. 

The practice of killing male chicks, often referred to as culling, is largely unknown to consumers. In fact, a recent report [PDF] by the think tank Innovate Animal Ag shows that only 11% of American egg buyers are aware that male chicks in the egg industry are culled.

How Did We Get Here? 

On farms across America, chickens were once considered “dual purpose” birds, as they were used both for egg production and then for meat at the end of their lives. But over the past five decades as farming has become more industrialized, the egg and chicken industries have become separate. Chicken breeds in the egg industry have been genetically selected for traits that make them more productive as egg-layers, including laying eggs earlier and in ever-increasing numbers, laying about 300 eggs per year, which is far beyond what is healthy.

In contrast, chickens in the meat industry, known as broiler chickens or broilers, have been genetically selected for qualities such as rapid weight gain and disproportionately large breast size which are scientifically proven to contribute to poor health and welfare outcomes in the most commonly used broiler chicken breeds. Broiler chickens are slaughtered young, around six weeks of age, never reaching sexual maturity to even lay eggs. Since male chicks in the egg industry could never gain this kind of weight, they are discarded like any other byproduct of an industry.

Hope Is on the Horizon

A technological innovation called in-ovo sexing could eliminate the waste of life and needless suffering involved in culling day-old male chicks. In-ovo sexing is a process of identifying which chicken embryos are male versus female while they are still in the egg during the incubation process.

Currently used in Europe but not yet in the U.S., in-ovo sexing allows a hatchery to destroy male-identified embryos before they hatch, and in the more advanced and humane versions, before the embryos develop the ability to feel pain. It also has benefits for farm and hatchery workers who are no longer forced to participate in this destruction of sentient animals.

Two Egg Brands Have Made Public Commitments

Recently, we’ve seen some promising signs from U.S. egg brands that are planning on using in-ovo technology soon. In April 2024, Egg Innovations™, a producer of Certified Humane eggs, announced its intention to use in-ovo sexing in order to eliminate the practice of chick culling for its Helpful Hens™ brand. Just this week, Certified Humane egg brand Kipster committed [PDF] to using in-ovo sexing technology for their upcoming flock this fall, meaning eggs free of chick culling could be available in the U.S. very soon!

If you are eager for companies to adopt in-ovo sexing and eliminate male chick culling, you’re not alone: once they learn about this issue, 73% of Americans report that they would like the egg industry to find an alternative to the practice [PDF], and 71% report they would be willing to pay more for eggs produced using in-ovo sexing technology.

What You Can Do

Make your voice heard, and let the industry know! Here are some actions you can take to show egg companies, hatcheries and supermarkets that you’re ready for them to adopt this technology: 

  • Politely email or send a DM via social media to the egg brand you buy from most, asking them if they’ve considered adopting in-ovo sexing technology, and state your support for it. 
  • Bring your store on board! Use our sample language to email or send a DM to the supermarket where you buy your eggs from most, alerting them that you’re aware of male chick culling and that they can make a difference by building in-ovo sexing into their corporate policies.  
  • Share this blog with your friends and family and find and share higher-welfare plant-based egg substitutes on our Shop With Your Heart Grocery List, including brands like Crafty Counter’s Wunder Eggs®, Bob’s Red Mill® and JUST®

Shoppers like you have real power to transform the industry’s intentions into action. For more updates on this technology and ways to get involved in farm animal welfare issues, join our Factory Farming Task Force.