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Farmer Says 61,000 Chickens Euthanized as Egg Sales Drop

A sharp drop in demand for eggs has one Minnesota farmer seeing 61,000 of his chickens euthanized amid the nation’s coronavirus lockdown.

Kerry Mergen, a contract egg farmer near Albany, Minn., got word on a Wednesday the chickens in his barn would be euthanized. A crew showed up the next morning and started gassing the birds with carbon dioxide.

The sudden drop in demand for food at restaurants, school cafeterias and caterers shut down by the pandemic has ripped through farming. Milk has been dumped, eggs smashed and ripe lettuce plowed under.

Now, farms are killing animals sooner than planned.

Mergen said he initially couldn’t believe it when a field manager from Daybreak Foods, the Lake Mills, Wis.-based firm that owned and paid to feed the flock of 61,000 birds, said they might be killed early. His contract called for the flock to produce eggs until fall.

Mergen told the newspaper that a group of 15 workers armed with carbon dioxide began euthanizing the chickens on April 6th at 6:30 A.M. and used semi trailers to remove the dead birds.

“They come in with carts, put them all in carts, wheel them up to the end, put a hose in that cart and gas them, then dump them over the edge into a conveyor and convey them up into semis and the semis haul them out,” explained Mergen. “I was in there for quite a while and the longer I was there the more disgusted and disappointed I was knowing that I’m not going to see anything put back in my checkbook again, so after a while I just simply left.”

The incident occurred after Cargill Inc.’s fluid eggplant in Big Lake, Minnesota, temporarily shut down last week, leaving 300 employees without a job. The food giant pointed to a large decline in demand as it shut down the plant that sees roughly 800 million eggs annually.

“It is important to note that food-service orders have not stopped, but with the decline in food-service orders, Cargill and its egg suppliers are working diligently to rebalance supply to match these consumer and customer shifts,” a Cargill spokesperson said in a statement.

The Mergens said they are still reeling from the ordeal, feeling disappointed that Daybreak did not consult them about there decision to euthanize the chickens.

“They didn’t confide in us, they didn’t ask us, they didn’t care about what effect this would have on us,” Barb Mergen said. “Our contract says at least a seven-day written notice. That’s not much, but it’s more than this. We just feel like we’re a nobody at the end.”

Up until earlier this month, the Mergens had been running their egg farming operation for 22 years.

“It’s a very challenging time. It’s very stressful on farmers,” said Kevin Stiles of the Chicken & Egg Association of Minnesota.