A broiler chicken sitting amongst fellow chickens.

9 facts about chicken farming that will make your stomach turn.

There are a few facts the chicken meat industry doesn't include in their advertisements — and it's easy to see why...

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated April 20, 2023

Over 1.5 million chickens are killed every single day in Australia alone. The treatment of chickens who are used for their meat – known as ‘broiler’ chickens – is one of the biggest animal welfare issues in the world today.

To meet consumer demand and turn a profit, these sensitive, social animals have been bred only to suffer short, painful lives. Here are a few things the chicken meat industry would prefer you didn’t know…

1. Broiler chickens suffer health issues

Broiler chickens have been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate. Their heavy bodies coupled with crowded living conditions mean they often suffer a myriad of problems including lameness, respiratory issues, heart problems, disease, chemical burns on their bodies and feet, infections, and of course, death.

In 2018, a customer who bought chicken breast from a supermarket in Victoria was shocked to discover green flesh (pictured below right). This is known as Deep Pectoral Myopathy (DPM) or green muscle disease and can be caused by the unnaturally rapid growth rate meat chickens are forced to undergo. The green flesh is usually cut out during meat processing, or the meat ‘downgraded’.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Unhealthy chickens
Image credit: Jamie Ferguson/Facebook

2. Chickens are still chirping babies when killed

Chickens are well-known for being talkative, and scientists have identified over 24 distinct noises that adult chickens use to communicate different things, such as danger or food and how they are feeling. A hen will even start communicating with her chicks while they’re still in the egg, so the chicks get to know the sound of her voice.

But meat chickens have been selectively bred to grow so big so fast that they reach slaughter weight at just 35 days old – when they are still ‘cheeping’ and long before they learn to cluck, growl, murmur, coo or develop their own ‘egg song’.

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Broiler meat chickens
Image credit: Farm Transparency Project

3. They’re forced to live in their own excrement … for weeks

In Australian factory farms, it’s legal to keep tens of thousands of chickens in a single shed. From the time they’re put there as tiny chicks to the day they’re caught and killed, the litter under them will not be cleaned. Because bird waste is acidic, this build-up of ammonia can then cause painful burns on their bodies. A build-up of ammonia can make it difficult for a person to breathe within only a few minutes – imagine what it must be like for those chickens who have to live their whole lives in there…

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4. They can be dosed with antibiotics – whether they are sick or not

In Australia and across the globe, entire sheds of chickens can be dosed with antibiotics as a ‘preventative measure’, at a time when antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to public health. Our recent investigation uncovered dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria on chicken (and pig) meat sold in Australian supermarkets – confirming that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are being produced as an inherent by-product of factory farming.

Concerningly, despite the risks ‘superbugs’ pose to all humankind, Australia has no reporting requirements in place on the industry’s use of antibiotics. But when a farming system requires tens of thousands of animals to be dosed up on antibiotics in an effort to stem the outbreak of disease, it is clear that we don’t just need reporting requirements – the system itself needs to change for both the animals and the safety of humans.

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Broiler chickens in broiler farm

5. Their fast growth coupled with awful living conditions can kill them

And it does. It’s pretty damning that the ‘farming’ system implemented by the intensive chicken meat industry results in the death of millions of chickens in the sheds each year – chickens who don’t even make it to 35 days old when they reach ‘slaughter weight’.

In the pursuit of profit, the intensive chicken meat industry has condemned millions of chickens to suffer greatly; particularly those who have to cope with painful and debilitating lameness. Their bodies become so large, so quickly, that many die from respiratory and heart problems, or from not being able to walk to food and water.

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Broiler chickens

6. Chicken carcasses can be washed with chlorine to try to control bacteria

There’s nothing quite as unhygienic as a shed jam-packed with sick chickens living in their own filth – so once the birds are killed, their bodies are often washed with chlorine. Chlorine is widely used in the industry to get rid of the nasties like E. Coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which can make people seriously ill.

an estimated 50,500 cases of Campylobacter infection in persons >5 years of age could be directly attributed each year to consumption of chicken in Australia.
Population-Attributable Risk Estimates for Risk Factors Associated with Campylobacter Infection, Australia (2008)
National Library of Medicine

7. ‘Unwanted’ chicks are gassed or ground up alive

Shortly after chicks in the meat industry hatch, they’re ‘sorted’ into groups — ‘viable’ and ‘unviable’. While the former will be condemned to a short life (most likely in a factory farm) the latter are considered ‘worthless’. Millions of tiny chicks who fall into this category are killed by either gassing or being dropped into a ‘maceration’ machine and ground up alive. This is just the ‘cost of doing business’ for the chicken meat industry (and the egg industry too) – and this practice is entirely legal in Australia.

The Farm Transparency Project and Animal Liberation NSW captured this brutal practice for the first time inside an Australian hatchery. You can learn more about it here.

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Broiler hatchery
Image credit: Farm Transparency Project / Animal Liberation

8. ‘Free-range’ chickens might see the outside world for just one week

The Free Range Egg and Poultry Association requirements state that birds must be given access to the outdoors from 3 weeks old – but as they will be killed between 4-6 weeks old, ‘free range’ chickens may only have access to the outdoors for one week of their lives (and often 3 weeks at most!).

Many people are surprised to learn that the term ‘free-range’ has no legal definition, so standards can vary enormously. Even in the ‘best’ free-range systems, chickens are usually genetically the same; they are bred to grow at an unnatural rate and thus are prone to many of the same health issues as those raised in factory farms.

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A young 'broiler' chicken suffering in a poultry farm.

9. Factory-farmed and ‘free-range’ chickens are trucked to the same slaughterhouses

Regardless of what system a chicken was raised in – factory farm, barn, or ‘free-range’ – the slaughter process they face is the same. Once these young birds reach ‘slaughter weight’, chicken catchers will grab them by their legs, stuff them into plastic crates, and transport them in all weather conditions to the slaughterhouse. They will all endure the same fear of being restrained, ‘stunned’, and killed. 

Some abattoirs will use gas chambers to kill the birds, and at other slaughterhouses, an electrified bath is used to ‘stun’ the animals before their throats are cut. Many chickens may arrive with dislocated hips and fractures only to be strung up painfully by their legs and forced to hang upside-down in metal stirrups, as a conveyor belt carries them through the bath, and towards an automated knife. And that’s when things go ‘well’. You can learn more about how chickens and other animals are slaughtered in Australia here.

Creating a kinder world for chickens

As consumer demand has created our current food system where chickens are treated this way, it is consumer demand that can shift towards kinder alternatives.

Every time you choose to leave chickens off your plate and opt for animal-friendly food, you are helping pave the way to a more compassionate world for chickens – a world where they are seen for who they are, instead what their bodies can produce. And these days, eating more kindly is easier than ever!

Order your free Veg Starter Kit today for tips on plant-based eating and tasty recipes, or check out VegKit.com:


Special thanks to Tamara Kenneally Photography, The Farm Transparency Project and Anonymous for Animal Rights for some of the images used in this feature.

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