Health and Welfare
Chickens are routinely fed antibiotics to keep them alive and promote growth. Having been bred to grow overweight so rapidly, they experience additional stress on their hips and legs, affecting their walk. At just 5-6 weeks old, they spend most of their time lying down.
- A review by the European Union concluded that visible lameness in the older chickens in European poultry houses was around three per cent. Other reports conclude 14-30 per cent in Scandinavia and 19-34 percent in the UK.
- In New Zealand the incidence of lameness is even higher. A 2013 MPI report found over half of chickens are unable to walk properly. Birds were found to have such bad leg problems that their ability to move around was affected, in some case they were unable to walk at all. Problems also described in the 2013 report included joint infections, twisted legs and femoral head necrosis.
The catching and transport of birds prior to slaughter can cause considerable pain and distress. Each catcher will carry as many as four birds by their legs in each hand and then attempt to cram them into small crates, which are then loaded onto trucks.
Dislocated hips, broken wings and legs, and bruising are common occurrences. The process of catching, loading, transport and unloading causes serious injury and even death to a significant number of chickens.
Chickens are slaughtered at just six-seven weeks of age. (A chicken's natural lifespan is around seven years.) On reaching the slaughterhouse, chickens are removed from their crates and shackled upside down by their feet on a moving line whilst still fully conscious. Their heads and neck are dragged through an electrically charged water bath designed to stun the birds, rendering them unconscious. The moving line then takes the birds to an automatic neck cutter. Birds are then bled before entering a scalding tank to make plucking easier. Chickens often experience pain and struggle while hung in shackles, many are not stunned properly and have their necks cut whilst fully conscious.
Dying (even) younger
Thousands of birds also die every day in New Zealand broiler sheds as a result of heart failure, disease and afflictions caused by intensive methods of production. Birds crippled and deformed die of starvation or thirst, unable to reach food or water.
Shockingly, a 2013 Ministry of Primary Industries report stated that over 2 million birds die each year (about 6000 a day) due to health problems before they even reached slaughter weight. SAFE believes the true figure is even higher according to overseas figures on the problems in chicken production. Of those 2 million, 65 percent were birds found dead, 9.2 percent were killed due to leg problems and 25.9 percent were killed for other problems.
The parent birds
Chickens are hatched from eggs laid by parent birds (broiler breeders). The parent birds are responsible for producing the millions of chickens consumed in New Zealand annually.
Parent birds are usually housed on deep litter in smaller groups. They live on a very restricted diet and can suffer severe hunger. The restriction of food is carried out to prevent them from growing as fast as the chickens reared for meat. If their growth would not be controlled, they would not survive.
The vast majority of chicken available in supermarkets, cafés, restaurants and in fast-food outlets is produced on factory farms.
The free range market makes up less than 1% of the industry but the welfare problems remain, as free range producers also use genetically compromised birds. The single biggest factor in the suffering of hens bred for meat consumption is the speed at which these birds are grown, and the inability of their bodies to cope with the growth. This means that free range is not a good option either.
There are also no industry standards or regulations regarding outside areas, only that they must have some access to outdoors. Since free range chickens are also slaughtered at 6 weeks old the amount of time they actually get to go outside is only 2-3 weeks, and in practice some may never get out.
The cruelty of chicken farming means the only true animal-friendly option is to avoid eating chicken altogether.