Euthanizing day-old male layer chicks isn’t an animal welfare problem, according to Dr. Ferry Leenstra, program manager, livestock research, Wageningen UR. She told the audience at the International Egg Commission meeting in Vienna that the question of whether to euthanize and dispose of layer breed cockerels is an ethical question that depends on the individual’s point of view.
From an efficiency standpoint, it is an easy decision. Broilers are so much more efficient at converting feed to meat than layer strains are, that it doesn’t make economic sense to raise these layer cockerels for meat to compete at the market with lower-cost, better-yielding broilers. But, Leenstra reported that in some countries that is exactly what is done. In some African and Asian countries, she said male layer chicks are raised for meat as backyard poultry that forage for most of their food. In some shops in Malaysia, she said layer males, which have been raised to market weight and processed, are actually sold at a higher price per pound than are broilers.
Leenstra said that in the EU, many day-old layer cockerels are marketed intact as animal food for zoo and university animals, like birds of prey and snakes. In the Philippines and some other parts of Asia, day-old layer males are used as a human “snack food.”
Frankly, I don’t see a winner among the current substitute uses that have been found for layer cockerels around the world. As the public relations folks would say, the “optics” for these uses for layer cockerels aren’t good. If egg producers don’t find some winning messaging supporting current practices, then finding a job for layer cockerels might just join the industry’s to-do list like moving out of conventional cages has.