Welfare issues for meat chickens
Approximately 70 percent of chickens raised for meat globally are raised in intensive farming systems. This includes the majority of chickens in the US, UK, and Europe, as well as rapidly increasing numbers in developing countries.
Intensively farmed chickens are bred to reach their slaughter weight in about six weeks. This is less than half the time it would take traditionally. Their short lives are often spent in overcrowded sheds with no access to the outdoors.
Inside the intensive chicken shed
Broiler sheds are generally bare except for water and food, with no natural light. There is litter on the floor to absorb droppings, which typically is not cleaned until the chickens are gathered for slaughter. Contact with litter can cause painful burns on the birds’ legs (called hock burns) and feet.
The air can become highly polluted with ammonia from the droppings. This can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory systems.
Chickens confined in these barren sheds are not able to adjust within their environment to avoid heat, cold, or other birds as they would do in natural conditions.
It can get very hot inside the sheds, especially in warmer months. If the ventilation systems fail, thousands of birds can die within hours.
Modern broiler breeds have been selected for exceptionally fast growth. As a result of growing so big so quickly, broilers spend much of their time lying down and many suffer from lameness. Rapid growth also puts additional strain on the birds’ hearts and lungs.
A single broiler shed often houses tens of thousands of birds. Each chicken receives slightly more space than a single sheet of notebook paper.
Chickens in overcrowded sheds lack exercise, are disturbed or trodden on while they are resting, have less and less space to move as they grow larger, and may find it difficult to reach food and water if they are lame. They are unable to forage as they would naturally.
Feed restriction of breeders
Some chickens are allowed to live until sexual maturity in order to breed. Their food intake is often severely restricted—otherwise their fast growth would damage their health. As a result, these breeding chickens can be chronically hungry, stressed, and frustrated.
Catching, transport and slaughter
Before transport to slaughter, broilers are usually deprived of food for several hours. Catching, crating, and transport are stressful, and can result in bruising and other injuries. Around 30 million broilers die during transport every year in the US alone.
At the slaughterhouse, chickens are typically hung by their feet on shackles while conscious, which is known to be painful, particularly as leg problems are common. Usually the birds are “stunned” by being dipped, head first, into an electrified water bath before their throats are cut. This stunning is sometimes ineffective: the struggling birds may raise their heads and miss the water, resulting in birds having their throat cut while fully conscious.
There are more humane alternatives to intensive chicken farming.
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Higher welfare for meat chickens
There are systems that offer significantly higher welfare for meat chickens (also called broilers).
How can I help?
There are a number of ways that you can help chickens farmed for meat.