Vegetarians' Dilemma: What happens to all the male chicks?

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Factory workers sex each little bundle of fluffy down, then drop the chicks into two different boxes. Egg layers are sent to the hatchery's clients, from urban egg enthusiasts with plastic coops to giant corporate farms. The rest are largely disposed of, often by gassing but animal rights activists will also site crushing and suffocation as fairly common sights. The Humane Society sites the number of male chicks killed each year in the hundreds of millions.

There are ways to avoid the mass slaughter, but they all cost money in a business that is constantly aiming at more efficiency. Eggs can be sexed before they are hatched, with the budding males destroyed then, although that would likely hold little sway with a chicken pro-lifer.

Something to think about the next time you make your famous vegetarian quiche for brunch.

(Photo from Rich Moffitt/Flickr)

(This is the first in a series of posts where we look behind the curtain at how omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and raw-foodists justify what they eat. No value judgments, just information.)

If you chose a vegetarian lifestyle to avoid playing a part in the millions of animal deaths necessary for meat production, you'd better put down that hard-boiled egg. If you eat mass-market, free-range, organic or local eggs — or even raise some chickens in your backyard — you are contributing to the slaughter of potentially hundreds of millions of chickens every year.

Eggs only come from hens — female chickens. Seems obvious, but have you stopped to think what happens to all the roosters born in hatcheries?

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