Life as a 'Meat' Chicken
‘Meat’ chickens (often referred to by the poultry industry as ‘broilers') have been selectively bred and reared for their meat, rather than their eggs. They are completely separate breeds from those kept for laying.
Over 115 million ‘meat’ chickens were slaughtered in New Zealand last year. The majority of these birds are housed in large, windowless sheds that each hold as many as 40,000 birds. A typical new farm could be responsible for up to 320,000 chickens.
Intensively reared chickens exist on concrete floors that are covered with a layer of litter. Birds are packed closely together and have little space to move. The legal maximum stocking density is 38 kg per square metre. This means 19 birds can be kept per square meter, giving each bird a floor area of less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
As the birds grow, conditions deteriorate and the sheds become increasingly overcrowded until the shed floor becomes literally a solid mass of chickens. They must constantly compete to reach food and water supplies. The birds' ability to express natural behaviours - perching, foraging, running and flying - is totally denied them inside these overcrowded sheds.
In NZ nearly all farmers breed Cobb and Ross chickens, both of which have been selectively bred over many generations to put on weight very quickly. They reach the desired slaughter weight of about 2kg at only five weeks of age. Chickens would normally take six months to fully mature.
Horrifyingly, the net effect of this fast growth is that the industry has made a breed of bird that has severe health problems and is a ‘non-survivor’. This means that if any of these birds were fortunate enough to be rescued and allowed to live naturally, they usually would not survive past one-year-old due to their poor genetic disposition.