Killing Chickens in a Wood Chipper Discussed in The Canadian Veterinary Journal
An Animal Rights Article from


Karen Davis, PhD, United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
June 2008

UPC President Karen Davis Responds to Professor Bernard E. Rollins
June 2008

Canadian Veterinary Medical Journal Volume 45, January 2004
Ethical question of the month - October 2003

Recent correspondence in a veterinary journal has concerned the use of a wood chipper to dispose of laying hens following the end of the production cycle or as an emergency measure in the case of an exotic disease outbreak. It is likely that such a device kills birds instantly. Is there anything wrong with such a practice?

An ethicist's commentary on using wood chippers to kill chickens

Some years ago, I experienced a situation exemplifying the flip side of the issue facing us. While visiting another country, I had a meeting with the executive board of the group representing equine veterinarians in that country. We discussed many ethical issues facing equine medicine in our respective countries, and eventually engaged the issue of euthanasia for injury at the racetrack. I was horrified to learn that their veterinarians dispatched such animals with succinylcholine, a paralytic depolarizing the neuro-muscular junction, resulting in an agonizing terrifying death by suffocation via paralysis of the diaphragm. Through I am not clear whether or not these practitioners understood what was going on physiologically, they defended their practice on aesthetic grounds, since the public did not wish to witness gunshot, in fact, a far more humane procedure.

Now we are discussing a procedure that is allegedly humane, involving instant death, but one which is as aesthetically disturbing as could be. If it is true that the animals do no suffer, the chicken euthanasia is far superior to the equine one just described, but it is still problematic.

Though not definitive, public sensibilities are highly relevant to methods of euthanasia. Not only must euthanasia create quick and painless death; it must not shock, horrify, or brutalize practitioners or observers. The problem with using the chipper is that it violates the latter set of concerns. As one of my students put it, "It may not hurt the animals, but it certainly hurts people." How so? Because it is horrible to observe and surely desensitizing to those who do it. We must ask ourselves, would we do it to companion animals? Would we allow our children to watch it? Would society accept it as a method of capital punishment if one could demonstrate scientifically the instantaneous loss of consciousness?"

It is bad enough that industrialized agriculture has commodified animals and replaced husbandry with industry. Should we now further evidence a view of animals that sees them as logs to be chipped? And in an ironic reversal of the horse situation, where it never even occurs to the public that the animals are not going to sleep peacefully, the public will never believe that being ground up alive doesn't hurt, thereby further eroding the image of agriculture in the public mind, and further potentiating the social demand for legislated regulation of agriculture.

Bernard E. Rollin, PhD
University Distinguished Professor
Department of Philosophy
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80532 USA

Disposal of Poultry Canadian, Veterinary Journal Volume 45, April 2004

I write with regard to Dr. Rollin's commentary on using wood chippers to kill chickens (Can Vet J 2004; 45:9 [January 2004]). Dr. Rollin appears to be unaware of how the hens in the San Diego County wood-chipping episode actually died.

The affidavits contained in the San Diego County Department of Animal Services' report explain that, in that episode, combinations of live and dead chickens, hundreds at a time, were tossed and piled into the bucket of a front-end loader tractor and that inside the chipper a hydraulic ram pushed the chickens toward a pair of large feed wheels that crushed them and fed them into a pulverizing device by means of a large number of rapidly rotating metal hammers. The chickens went into the machinery every which way: head, breast, wings, legs, and beak.

In his commentary, Dr. Rollin quotes a "student" in suggesting that a method that hurts animals more, but less obviously to human sensibilities, may be preferable to a less inhumane death that "hurts" (offends) humans aesthetically. The purport of his letter seems to be that the ethics of how (and why) we kill animals is more about public relations, wishes, and perceptions than about how an animal actually dies at our hands. In the case of the wood-chipper killings, it isn't only that the hens were treated like logs and that the manner of their death was ugly. The hens and how they experienced being killed are the primary issues, along with the ethical breach of conduct and oath violation of the veterinarians involved.

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