About Chicks and Hens
A Hen and her Chicks
Chicks that are scattering around mother hen: This image is common in children books and it is not for nothing. The relationship between the hen and her chicks is very tight, even before hatching. The hen broods her eggs for three weeks. Each day the hen turns the eggs about thirty times in order to keep them in the best heat and moisture condition. After hatching the chicks stay close to their mom, the hen, for one to two months. The hen instructs them what to eat and protects them from predators. At night, the chicks sleep under their mom's wings.
In the last few years, scientists studied the relationship between a hen and her chicks and learned to understand some of their calls and gestures. One of these gestures is the one used to direct the chicks to the right food. In one of the studies, the scientists temporarily separated hens from their chicks. For the hens, they placed the finest food in a dish of a certain color. For the chicks, they placed the same food in a dish of another color. When reunited, the hen saw her chicks looking for food in the "wrong" place. The scientists documented hens trying to fix the chicks’ choice by pronounced usage of the gesture previously identified as the gesture used to teach her chicks the right food for them.
Birth in a Hatchery
The chicks that are born for the eggs and poultry-meat industries will never see their mom and will never raise their own chicks.
There are special farms that raise hens for breeding. These hens' fertilized eggs are taken to hatcheries. Instead of hens warming the eggs, they are incubated artificially. Instead of hatching to a nest, the chicks hatch in special hatching drawers.
Scientists have deciphered over thirty chicken calls. They have shown that when a chick is lost in high grass he makes a certain call that may be translated into: “Mom, Mom, where are you?” The mom is responding to this call in a specific call of her own. When scientists documented the calls of the chicks in hatcheries, it was shown that for 3-4 days after hatching, the chick makes that call for his mom.
The life of a chick in the meat industry
The life of chicks in the meat industry is tough and short.
There are different strains of chickens for the meat industry and for the eggs industry.
A chick in the meat industry has a distorted body, designed to grow in a very fast rate. This is the result of artificial selection, done mostly in the last 70 years, in order to adjust the body of the chicken to the financial demands of the industry. The breast (which is the most profitable organ) was inflated in this process, while the lungs and the skeleton are not developed. The young chicken can hardly stand on his legs and cannot breathe well. At 6 weeks old, when he is still supposed to sleep under his mother’s wings, he already weighs more than 2 kilograms. This is the time he is packed into a track and taken to be slathered.
The life of a chicken in the egg industry
The egg industry developed different strains of chickens to meet the industry's demands. These strains are designed to lay many eggs. When chicks of these strains hatch in the hatchery, they are sorted out. The females will lay eggs and are sent to a farm that raises them until the age where they reach puberty. Then they transfer the hen to an egg laying coop.
Most facilities hold the hens in tiny bare cages made of meshed metal bars. The hen cannot do anything that a hen would naturally do: Wander around, peck in the ground, sleep at night on a branch of a tree, sand bathe with other hens. She cannot even stretch a wing. The frustration causes the hen to peck other neighbor hens and sometimes even wound them. The industry copes with this by cutting off part of the hen's beak, to minimize the damage. At the age of one and a half or two, the number of eggs that the hen lays decreases to the point that it is not economical anymore to keep her. The hen is taken out of her cage and gets killed. Instead of this hen, another, younger hen is placed in the coop.
The male chicks are not suitable for the meat industry and not for laying eggs. As males they will not lay eggs, of course. It is also not profitable to raise them for meat because they will not grow up as fast as the chickens from the strains developed especially for the meat industry. Therefore there is no use for them, and they are killed in the hatchery. These are not the only chicks that are killed in these facilities. Hatcheries also kill chicks that are injured or that were born with physical defects, as well as chicks that hatched later than the other chicks of the same batch.
How do they kill them? The cheapest way is to throw the chicks into big containers or plastic bags. The chicks get piled up one of top of the other and die, a slow death, from getting squashed, from hunger and from thirst. This is outlawed in Israel but every now and then we discover a hatchery that is still operating in this manner.
The alternative is to kill the chicks in a specially-designed machine. The developers of these machines claim that they kill the chicks "humanely". One kind shreds the chicks while they are still alive: the chicks are thrown alive into a device with sharp rotating blades that grind the chick alive, just like we grind a carrot in a food processor. In another kind of machine, the chicks are smashed between a set of cog-wheels, turning in opposite directions. In a third kind of machine, the chicks are killed in a gas chamber: The chicks are put into a chamber which gets filled with lethal gas. There are different gas choices: Co2 is the popular choice because it is cheap and easy to come by. Yet, CO2 is aversive to the chicks, as it becomes acidic when it contacts the eyes and soft tissues of the chicks, before they lose consciousness. Other gas mixtures that are based on inert gases like Argon, are considered more successful with reducing the suffering of the chicks. Any kind of a killing machine will be crueler if not operated correctly.
Together we can save millions of chicks
The killing of chicks is an unavoidable part of the egg and of the poultry-meat industries. The only way to stop this is by reducing the consumption of these products. An easy calculation shows that if we eat one less egg per week, we will save millions of chicks.
According to the Israeli Egg and Poultry Board, Israeli hatcheries market 4.5 millions new female chicks for the local egg industry yearly. For each female "produced", a male chick is killed. So 4.5 millions male chicks are killed each year. On top of that, there are female chicks that are killed for defects.
An average Israeli consumes 240 eggs a year. If we eat one less egg every week, we would reduce the consumption by 22%. If egg consumption decreased, the industry would need less new hens and the hatcheries would decrease the number of eggs they hatch. 22% decrease in consumption will translate to 22% decrease in the demand for new hens and in the killing of male chicks. In numbers, this means around 1 million chicks less killed each year.
In the United States:
According to USDA statistics, American hatcheries "produce" 240 million new female chicks for the egg industry yearly. Using the same logic, 240 million male chicks are killed in those facilities, as well as an un-known number of defective female chicks.
An average American consumes 246 eggs a year. If every American ate one egg less a week, the demand for eggs would decrease by 21%. This would translate in 21% decrease in the industry's demand for new hens, and consequently in the number of unwanted male chicks. Numbers wise, 50 millions male chicks less will be killed each year.