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...A primary destination for eggs from the flock — a Cargill Inc. fluid egg plant in Big Lake, Minn. — temporarily shut down last week and laid off 300 employees there. The company cited declining demand for the decision to idle the facility, which handles 800 million eggs a year and sends containers of fluid egg to food-service companies across North America...Demand for eggs in grocery stores is high and the price of a dozen eggs has risen. But much of the egg-production system is built to provide fluid eggs to food service companies and changing farms to provide eggs for retail is neither simple nor quick.Mergen said his was one of five egg farms where chickens were euthanized in Minnesota in recent weeks, and that the other four were larger than his farm...“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,” Mergen said. “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.”By nightfall the chickens were gone, taken to a rendering plant to be turned into dog food, and so was the Mergens’ income from a business they’ve been running for 22 years.The Mergens made 15.5 cents per dozen eggs and produced 4,500 dozen eggs a day. Mergen said he doesn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, and is on a waiting list for federal aid.
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