The facts about factory farmed chickens and their awful lives and deaths follows in this article.
Have you made the shift to free-range?
Worldwide, more than 50 billion chickens are raised and slaughtered annually.
Chickens are sociable, intelligent animals. Studies have shown that they are able to solve problems and, unlike young children, grasp the permanence of objects (they understand that objects taken from view continue to exist). Their natural behaviour includes living in stable groups of 30 or so that employ a social hierarchy (the origin of the term pecking order). The chickens in a given flock all know and recognize each other.
Their communal activities include scratching and pecking for food, running around, taking dust baths, and resting. They crow and chirp in a range of some 30 meaningful vocalizations. Chickens also have a strong urge to nest, and, like most animal mothers, they nurture their young attentively and affectionately. A hen carefully tends her eggs in the nest, turning them up to five times an hour and clucking to them; remarkably, the unborn chicks chirp back to her and to one another.
Through the 1950s, even chickens raised for eventual slaughter were kept in traditional small coops of no more than 60 or so birds, with free access to the outdoors; they could nest, roost, and share space according to their natural behaviour. But modern large-scale farming practices (“factory farming”) give chickens no opportunity to behave according to their nature. Quite the contrary—the reality of the life and death of factory-farmed chickens, both those raised for meat and those used to lay eggs, is shocking.
As in all factory-farming industries, chicken production is designed for maximum efficiency and maximum profit. With these goals, regard for the welfare of the animals involved is a luxury that reduces profits unless the extra costs can be passed on to the consumer (as on the much-publicized but less frequently seen “free-range” meat and egg farms). The results are overcrowding, disease, high death rates, and observable unhappiness for the animals involved.
Many people believe that chicken, especially the breast of the chicken, is healthier to eat than “red meat.” The birds raised for meat, called “broilers” by the industry, are the product of genetic manipulation that has drastically increased breast and thigh tissue (the most popular parts of the animal) and produced a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs and organs. Broilers raised in this way are supposed to reach “slaughter weight” at just six or seven weeks of age, but the death toll is very high.
The growth of abnormally heavy bodies causes crippling and painful skeletal deformities, and the overburdening of the birds’ underdeveloped cardiopulmonary systems often causes congestive heart failure before they are six weeks old. Some broiler chickens who do not succumb to these problems still die of thirst, because they are physically unable to even reach the water nozzles in their sheds. Other common causes of death pre-slaughter are heat prostration, cancer—in an animal less than seven weeks old—and infectious diseases.
Chickens are exempted from the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. The Humane Society of the United States is one of several organizations lobbying to obtain a requirement that poultry animals not be exempted from legislation that would protect them from painful, sometimes torturous, death.
As for egg laying hens, there is no room even to perform self-comforting behaviours such as preening and bathing. Hens are usually kept eight or nine to a cage; long tiers of these cages are built one upon another in sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds, none of whom has enough room to raise a wing. Excrement falls from the top cages to the lower ones, causing the same “ammonia burn” problem as in the broiler houses. Like chickens raised for meat, laying hens are de-beaked as chicks. The hens are deprived of the ability to create nests for their eggs, which instead drop through the wires of the cage for collection.