The vast majority of chickens raised for meat are forced to live in crowded sheds, and millions take their last breaths there—they die before ever reaching the slaughterhouse. Some of these animals are killed during transport to slaughter, but many die while still at the farm because of their horrific living conditions or the ultrafast growth rate they’ve been selectively bred for.
A recent article in the Guardian states that each week a staggering one million chickens raised for meat in the United Kingdom die at farms before reaching the slaughterhouse. But this problem isn’t unique to the United Kingdom. In fact, the number in the United States is several times higher. “Broilers,” as the meat industry refers to chickens raised for meat, today have been selectively bred to grow 258 percent faster than those in 1960.
“The utter misery these animals face on a daily basis is unnecessary and would outrage even the most ardent meat-eaters because it serves no purpose but to satisfy the profits of our major supermarkets, who refuse to help them.”—Chris Packham, broadcaster and conservationist
Why breed chickens to grow so large so fast?
The meat industry breeds chickens to grow unnaturally large and fast so they reach “kill weight” in just 47 days. This helps increase the meat industry’s profits at the expense of the animals’ well-being.
Putting on an abnormal amount of weight in such a short time causes the chickens to suffer a host of painful ailments. Often, their legs give out, and they’re forced to lie on waste-soaked litter. Because of this, chickens commonly suffer from burns and blisters on their bellies. Many animals can’t even stand up and slowly die because they are unable to reach food and water.
The rapid growth rate also puts tremendous stress on the animals’ organs. According to the Guardian, one of the most common causes of death in flocks is heart failure, or sudden death syndrome.
Why are the chickens so crowded?
Not only are most chickens raised for meat victims of genetic selection for fast growth, but they are forced to live in packed sheds with thousands of other animals—again, to maximize profits.
Chickens in modern farms are denied almost everything natural and important to them, including sufficient space to roam, places to perch and dustbathe, and access to fresh air. The animals’ litter is rarely changed, and the acrid air stings their sensitive eyes and burns their throats. Because of the psychological stress of overcrowding, many chickens exhibit unnatural behaviors, such as pecking one another or cannibalism.
Chickens commonly have little to no access to the outdoors or natural light. Many farms use light manipulation to encourage the animals to eat more and thus grow even larger. Many animals subjected to harmful light manipulation are forced to live in constant dimness and never see the sun until the day they’re shipped to slaughter—if they survive that long.
What You Can Do
The best way to spare chickens suffering in the meat industry is simply to reduce or eliminate your consumption of animal-based meat and choose plant-based foods instead.
To help the animals trapped in farms, you can join Mercy For Animals in encouraging companies to ban some of the cruelest farming practices in their supply chains by adopting the Better Chicken Commitment. The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of standards to significantly reduce suffering for chickens by phasing out the use of ultrafast-growing breeds, increasing space for the animals, providing healthier lighting conditions, and making other welfare improvements.