Millions of one-day-old chicks are killed every day, either through mechanical grinding or by their spinal cords being severed. Now, at least in the US, that’s all about to change thanks to a new technology.

Male chicken are culled by the millions every day. Image via Wikipedia.

Egg farms have two major targets: to produce eggs, and to produce hens that lay eggs. Male chickens aren’t needed in either, so they are “discarded” – killed, often in a brutal fashion.

Most of the time, male chickens are culled through a process called maceration, in which the chicken are killed in a large high-speed grinder. The process is considered inhumane and has been opposed by many scientists and environmentalists.

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“Egg layers are bred to be egg laying machines who can pump out hundreds of eggs each year,” David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League told The Huffington Post in an email. “They’re expected to live for approximately one year, typically confined to a tiny cage. On the other hand, broilers are bred to be grotesquely large, growing to a huge size within one month — this is like having a toddler that weighs hundreds of pounds — when they are slaughtered. This leaves the male laying breed as the odd man out — too small to be really profitable to raise for meat and unable to lay eggs.”

But now, United Egg Producers, which represents 95% of egg producers in America has announced that it plans to “eliminate the culling of male chicks at egg laying hen hatcheries by 2020”.

The new technology is called ovo-sexing and will determine the sex of the chicken while they are still an embryo. Instead of hatching and then being killed, the eggs will instead be used in the egg supply chain for use in vaccinations or pet food.

Referring to the decision as “historic” Coman-Hidy said:

“We are proud to have played such a pivotal role in doing away with this barbaric convention and to help pave the way to a more humane future. It is clear that chick culling will soon be a thing of the past in the United States.”

But while this will save millions of chicken lives, it’s just the first step in a very long road. Surviving hens still live miserable lives, trapped in cages so small the animals can barely move. “Cage-free” eggs are starting to become a thing, but most people are still unaware of this, or don’t care enough to start supporting the change. Coman-Hidy is optimistic, though.

“It’s an indicator that society is coming to recognize that farmed animals have lives, they feel pain and that they matter,” he said.