A chicken can be just 5 weeks old when he is killed for his meat, but he’ll have the body of an adult bird and many of the ailments that come with it. This unnatural growth rate is the result of decades of selective breeding that has put industry profits ahead of the wellbeing of animals.
In commercial chicken farming, the chickens have just one ‘job’ — to gain weight. And everything — from the conditions they’re kept in, to selective breeding over generations — has been carefully manufactured to create a business model where chickens become as ‘meaty’ as possible, as quickly as possible.
The consequences of this rapid and unnatural growth are dire for many birds. As their bodies grow too quickly, walking and even standing can become difficult due to lameness or dislocated joints.
Modern chickens are effectively born into a genetic prison. Their bodies are their cages. Their health and welfare are so compromised that their likelihood of survival (or not) is built into the economics of running a chicken farm.
The industry anticipates that 4% — or 26 million chickens annually — won’t even survive long enough to reach slaughter weight.
For those who do, the sheds where they will live out their short, painful lives provide no space or enrichment to enable natural behaviours such as perching, or cleaning feathers by dust-bathing. Sheds typically hold around 40,000 chickens and industry standards allow birds to be kept at (approx.) 20 per square metre, affording each animal the space of about an A4 piece of paper (estimate based on the legally permitted 40kg weight per square metre of shed).
And carefully manipulated lighting makes it nearly impossible for the birds to properly rest. That’s because it’s often not dark for very long — but it’s not very light either. The dim light is meant to keep chickens docile, as too much movement will exercise off their ‘meat’. But sleep isn’t ‘desirable’ either, because that’s valuable time chickens should be eating and putting on more weight. Incredibly, even in the updated draft welfare standards for chickens, there is still no requirement to provide birds with an appropriate amount of time in continuous darkness.