Chickens Raised for Food

Despite what many people seem to believe, chickens are intelligent, social, and emotional beings. Recent studies have demonstrated that chickens are able to anticipate future events, express a variety of emotions, communicate vocally and visually, and build long-term relationships. 

The life of chickens raised for meat and eggs is one that is filled with suffering. Learn more about chickens used in the meat and egg industries below, and how leaving them off your plate can help alleviate enormous suffering.

 

Chickens Raised for Meat

Quick facts:

  • Chickens are slaughtered at just 7 weeks old, despite an 8 year lifespan

  • 40 billion chickens are killed annually for food worldwide

  • Chickens are not covered by humane slaughter act

  • 99% of chickens are raised in factory farm conditions 

  • The daily growth rate of chickens has increased 300% in the past 50 years

The hatchery, a cruel start

A broiler chicken’s life begins at a hatchery where the chicks hatch from their shells and are removed from the drawers of climate controlled incubators. After all of the chicks are removed from the incubators, and a machine has separated any partially hatched eggs, often severely injuring or killing the chick, all the living chicks are dropped onto a conveyor belt and put through a mist that administers the vaccinations they will need to survive their short, stressful lives on the farm.

Living conditions for chickens on factory farms 

The birds are raised in grower houses, which are massive, windowless sheds. A typical operation will give each bird less than 0.75 sq. ft., about the size of a sheet of paper, of room. Even though they are not caged, these closely confined conditions cause enormous stress on the birds who cannot perform any natural behaviors even those as basic as flapping their wings.

An unnatural process

There is nothing natural about the process of raising broilers. Everything is very systematic because producers want to grow the biggest birds in the shortest amount of time to minimize costs. Breeding for select traits has been the real driving force in increasing the growth rate of chickens, however, the industry has also found that limiting the amount of darkness the birds experience and regulating temperature confuses the birds natural instincts and causes them to consume more food than they actually need. Birds are often kept in fully light conditions during their last week of life.

A painful existence

This rapid, unnatural growth causes enormous health problems for the birds because their bodies literally cannot keep up with this expedited growth rate. It's not uncommon for birds to suffer from serious leg injuries, such as broken bones and ruptured tendons, birth defects, and deformities. The average broiler chicken spends more than 75% of their time lying down because not only do the crowded conditions make it difficult for them to move around, but also they are frequently in too much pain to stand. More than one quarter of birds have severe gait defects that make it difficult from them to walk, and hundreds of millions of birds die from sudden death syndrome each year. 

Chickens Raised for Eggs

Quick facts:

Male chicks killed at hatcheries

Hatched chicks are placed on conveyor belts and separated by sex. Simple economics has determined that there is no reason to keep male layer chicks alive. The egg industry has no use for them as they cannot lay eggs, and because they have not been selectively bred for rapid growth like broilers it is not profitable to raise them for meat. Each year half of all the chicks born into the egg industry, approximately 6 billion, male chicks are either dumped into a machine equivalent to a large garbage disposal and ground up alive or are suffocated in plastic bags. For the female chicks a new kind of torture is just beginning as chickens used for egg production are possibly the most abused of all farmed animals.

Debeaking

Most laying hens have one third of their beak cut off with a hot blade before leaving the hatchery. The purpose of this is to minimize the birds ability to injure each other in the confined battery cages.  In extreme confinement it is not uncommon for agitated birds to attack each other or self mutilate. This procedure is done without anesthetic and is extremely painful for the birds.

Deplorable living conditions

The hens spend the entirety of their lives crammed into battery cages with 5-10 other birds. A typical egg farm has multiple rows of these 20-inch wide battery cages stacked up to five cages high. The base of the cage is wire to efficiently remove not only the eggs, but also the waste produced by the hens. The wire bottom causes the hens to sustain serious injuries to their feet and legs, which are already extremely brittle due to calcium deficiency.

What about cage-free eggs?

Cage-free eggs are not all they are cracked up to be. They are essentially a scam by producers in response to consumers' growing interest in animal welfare. To label a product as cage-free, producers do not need to grant birds any outdoor access or give them a minimum about of space.