Pet Food, Bird Shredding and Embryo Sexing: Behind the Scenes
An Animal Rights Article from


Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
September 2016

Each week, a thousand truckloads of dead birds and byproducts from poultry slaughter plants, hatcheries and factory farms lumber to the Hanceville, Alabama plant to be converted into two feed grades: “pet-food-grade poultry meals and fat” in one plant, “feed-grade poultry meal, hydrolyzed meal, and fat for the livestock industries” in the other.

Pet food packaging and advertising are designed to attract consumers – people who buy food for their dogs and cats. Purina and other brands market their products to buyers: “Chicken is your favorite food and your dog and cat’s favorite too.”

Recently the promoters of Evolution Pet Food, “Premium Vegan Pet Foods since 1989,” urged me to “start telling people that baby male chicks and spent layer hens are being ground up alive by the millions every day for pet foods. They are the ‘chicken’ in pet foods throughout the U.S. and Canada.” (1)

suffocating male chicks
Newborn male chicks are destroyed at the hatchery. This is the true face of smiley-face pet food. Hatchery photo courtesy of The Animals Voice

Evolution’s plea came in June this year when a press release announced that “The Humane League convinces America’s largest representative of egg producers to take a historic stance on ending the practice of shredding newborn male chicks.” (2)

In May, a proposed ban on chick shredding by German egg producers was voted down by the German Parliament in favor of a voluntary agreement by egg producers to end the practice. The vote was upheld by a court decision noting that chick shredding is “part of the process for providing the population with eggs and meat.” (3) In other words, people’s consumption of poultry and eggs involves the mass destruction of newborn chicks and chick embryos as byproducts of their eating habits.

suffocating male chicks
Newborn chicks are thrown into shredding machines for pet food.

Hundreds of millions of male chicks, surplus and slow-hatching female chicks and unwanted baby turkeys are ground up alive – shredded, macerated by machinery – in the United States each year. Machines separate the female chicks bound for commercial egg production from the male chicks and unhatched embryos. The male chicks and embryos go to a waste removal system for transport to a rendering facility. Other chicks are fed alive to reptiles and raptors in zoos. (4)

Other byproducts trucked to rendering facilities include slaughterhouse blood, feathers, heads, feet, viscera, preen glands and dead birds too diseased to disguise even as sausages. All this, plus the “hatchery waste” in which newborn chicks and sentient embryos are comprised, gets turned into farmed animal feed and pet food.

American Proteins, Inc.

– “The international resource for processing allied poultry products.”

The rendering company American Proteins, in Georgia and Alabama, describes itself as “the largest poultry protein and lipids conversion operation in the world, annually producing more than 750,000 tons of pet food and feed grade poultry protein meal and pet food and feed grade poultry fat and feather meal.” (5)

Each week, a thousand truckloads of dead birds and byproducts from poultry slaughter plants, hatcheries and factory farms lumber to the Hanceville, Alabama plant to be converted into two feed grades: “pet-food-grade poultry meals and fat” in one plant, “feed-grade poultry meal, hydrolyzed meal, and fat for the livestock industries” in the other. (6)

Chick Shredding

killing baby turkeys
Baby turkeys get caught in the machinery. Photo story by Compassion Over Killing as posted on All-Creatures.

While millions of chicks are suffocated to death in plastic-lined garbage cans, shredding machines, known as macerators, have become the preferred method of destroying unwanted baby turkeys (poults) and chicks as soon as they hatch. “Inside a Turkey Hatchery,” by Compassion Over Killing, shows turkey poults being dumped into “the same disposal system as the discarded eggshells they were separated from earlier.” The advantage of live chick shredding according to Poultry World is that “The killing device is simple and affordable and the chicks stay unimpaired, so they can be sold to the pet-food industry especially for cat food.” (7)

Spent Hen “Chipping” Disposal

Baby chicks and chick embryos are not the only ones shredded. Along with gassing and slaughtering, woodchipper-like machinery is used to destroy unwanted egg-industry hens, though at this writing I can’t say to what extent the method is employed by U.S. egg producers.

Some readers may recall that in 2003, workers at the Ward Egg Ranch in San Diego, California were caught throwing 30,000 live hens into woodchippers, in which a piece of wood is “fed into a chipper’s funnel-shaped opening, and the blades on a rapidly spinning disk or drum cut it into small pieces.”

wood chipper killing hens
These woodchipper blades were used to grind egg-laying hens to death. Photo by the San Diego County Department of Animal Services

The disclosure, which United Poultry Concerns publicized through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the San Diego County Department of Animal Services, revealed that cramming live hens into woodchippers was not an isolated practice. (8) A government document included in the FOIA file advises egg producers that “whole birds can be composted on site” and that “grinding birds first aids composting considerably.” A veterinarian told the San Diego County Department of Animal Services that the woodchipper is “quick, it's painless, and it's over in seconds.” Canadian farmed animal investigator Twyla Francois said wood-chipping-like macerators are commonly used to destroy spent hens in Canada. (9)

A Canadian publication in 2003 listed on-farm methods of hen disposal to include mobile electrocution units, carbon dioxide gassing, neck-breaking, and macerators. Researchers at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College were reported experimenting with macerators to convert spent hens into feed for the fur farm industry, vacuuming the live hens down a tube to the grinder. (10)

In-Ovo Chick Sexing Technology

Public opposition to male chick disposal by the egg industry – male chicks being useless to egg producers since roosters don’t lay eggs – has prompted a technology that sorts the male chicks from the female chicks inside the egg. An article in World Poultry in May 2016 says the technology could potentially “remove the routine hatchery practice of killing day-old male chicks, which is increasingly arousing protests among consumer groups.” (11)

One technology uses “a laser beam to cut a small, circular hole at the top of the egg” to identify the embryo’s sex based on its DNA content. An egg with a female chick inside is patched and returned to the incubator, while an egg with a male chick inside goes to waste removal. The technique is said to be 95% accurate with a target goal of 100,000 eggs per machine per day, 3,000 to 5,000 eggs per hour.

Industry Support

Egg industry officials support embryonic chick sexing. It isn’t just public opinion. Financially, they say that “only having to incubate 50% of the eggs from day 9 till 21, will have a significant effect on any hatchery cost structure.” (12) A poultry advisor in the UK predicts commercial availability of the technology within a year and anticipates its ready adoption by egg producers. The U.S. trade association United Egg Producers says replacing live chick disposal with in-ovo technology could happen by 2020 if it is “economically feasible.” (13)

Is In-Ovo Chick Sexing and Disposal Humane?

“The nervous system originates during the 21st hour of incubation, followed by origination of the head and the eyes.”
–– Bell and Weaver (14)

chick embryo
Chick embryo on the 9th day of incubation

The operation if successful will be less cruel than current practices. Billions of birds with no future will die in 10 days instead of 3 weeks. They will not struggle out of their shells only to go into a garbage can or a shredder. They will avoid the brutal handling of hatchery employees.

At the same time, we must understand that a chick embryo’s nervous system starts developing within the first 24 hours of incubation. During the first 2 days, the embryo is described in industry literature as “very sensitive.” (15) By the 9th day, when the chick sexing machinery starts separating the unwanted embryos for removal to the renderer, the embryo is visibly a baby bird with eyes and a face inside the egg. The ethical advantage of in-ovo chick sexing is that an unwanted life doomed to suffer and be killed at birth is shortened by several days, and birth is avoided.

suffocating male chicks
"Let us not be born." Hatchery photo courtesy of The Animals Voice

What Can I Do?

As well as being vegan ourselves and getting others to join us, please explore vegan pet food options. We encourage everyone to learn all they can when considering these options. Discuss the diet with your veterinarian and learn more about vegan pet food products and nutrition from:

Evolution Pet Foods Shop
1081 Highway 36 East
Maplewood, MN 55109
(800) 659-0104

San Francisco, CA
(888) 280-8364

Vegan Essentials
Companion Animal Products
(866) 888-3426


1. Lynn Weisman, President, Evolution Pet Food. Email to Karen Davis, June 27, 2016.

2. The Humane League, “United Egg Producers Announces Elimination of Chick Culling by 2020,” June 9, 2016.

3. Donny Moss, “Germany’s Decision to Affirm Legality of Male Chick Shredding Shines Global Spotlight on Practice.” Their Turn, June 10, 2016.

4. Tony McDougal, “Commercial Poultry Embryo Sexing a Step Closer.” World Poultry, May 13, 2016.

5. American Proteins, Inc.

6. “American Proteins: Water is By-Product.” WATT Poultry USA, April 2003, pp. 38, 40.

7. A.R. Gerrits, “Method of Killing Day-Old Chicks Still Under Discussion.” World Poultry, 11.9, 1995, p. 28.

8. “Emperor of the World.” Poultry Press (publication of United Poultry Concerns) Winter 2003.

9. Twyla Francois (Canada Head Inspector for Animals’ Angels). Email to Karen Davis, December 7, 2006.

10. “Spent Hen Disposal Across Canada.” Livestock Welfare Insights Issue 4 (publication of Alberta Farm Animal Care) June 2003.

11. Tony McDougal, “Commercial Poultry Embryo Sexing a Step Closer.” World Poultry, May 13, 2016.

12. Fabian Brockotter, “Incredible Technological Advance.” World Poultry, July 29, 2016.

13. The Humane League, “United Egg Producers Announces Elimination of Chick Culling by 2020,” June 9, 2016.

14. Donald D. Bell, and William D. Weaver, Jr., eds. Chicken Meat and Egg Production, 5th edition. Norwell, Mass: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002.

15. “Embryonic Development” (print copy). Ceva Pharmaceuticals.

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