welfare issues for meat chickens
Around 70% of chickens raised for meat globally are raised in intensive industrial farming systems. This includes the majority of chickens in the UK, Europe and the US as well as rapidly increasing numbers in developing countries.
Intensively farmed chickens are bred to reach their slaughter weight in less than 6 weeks. This is half the time it would take traditionally. Their short lives are spent in overcrowded sheds with no access to the outside.
Inside the intensive chicken shed
Broiler sheds are generally bare except for water and food points, with no natural light. There is litter on the floor to absorb droppings which is not usually cleared until the chickens are gathered for slaughter.
The air can become highly polluted with ammonia from the droppings. This can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory systems and can cause painful burns on their legs (called hock burns) and feet.
Chickens confined in these barren sheds are not able to adjust their environment to avoid heat, cold or dirt as they would in natural conditions.
It can get very hot inside the sheds, especially in summer. If the ventilation system fails, thousands of birds can die of heat stress.
Chickens bred for fast growth have a high rate of leg deformities because their bones struggle to grow quickly enough to keep up.
This footage shows potentially upsetting scenes of animal suffering.
Intensively reared chickens are selected for very fast growth rate. They spend much of their time lying down and many of them suffer from lameness. The rapid growth also puts a strain on their hearts and lungs. In the UK alone, millions of chickens die in their sheds from heart failure each year.
Tens of thousands of birds can be housed in each shed. The 2007 EU Directive allows the equivalent of 19 birds per square metre. This means that each bird has less floor space than the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
Chickens in overcrowded sheds lack exercise, are disturbed or trodden on when they are resting, have less and less space to move as they grow larger and may find it more difficult to reach food and drink if they are lame. They are unable to forage as they would naturally. Crowding is also likely to lead to more air pollution, increased heat stress and foul litter.
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. These chickens can be stressed, frustrated and chronically hungry as a result.
Catching, transport and slaughter
Before transport to slaughter, broilers are usually deprived of food for many hours. Catching, crating and transport are stressful and can result in bruising and other injuries. Around 20 million chickens per year are already dead by the time they arrive at EU slaughterhouses.
At the slaughterhouse, chickens are typically hung by their feet on shackles whilst conscious, which is likely to be painful, particularly as leg problems are common. The birds are usually 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 fully conscious birds having their throats cut.
There are more humane alternatives to intensive chicken farming.