Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Chickens

Many studies have been conducted on chickens and other birds, and on this topic professor of neuroscience and animal behavior at the University of New England Dr. Lesley Rogers states, “It is clear now that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”

Additionally, Dr. Joy Mench a professor at the University of California’s Department of Animal Sciences has shown that chickens understand cause-and-effect relationships.

 

 

 

Chicks

 

Starting at birth, baby chicks are sorted according to gender. The females are kept to produce eggs while the males are thrown into a crate or bin and then killed.

The usual methods for getting rid of male chicks include using poisonous gas or simply throwing the live, fully conscious chicks into a shredding machine called a macerator; consisting of many rotating blades this machine shreds the chicks into pieces within seconds.

This is the preferred method for the slaughter of most of the 30 million male chicks born every year in the U.S.

The males are killed as they can not even be raised for meat because chickens used for egg laying have been genetically modified to stay thin.

Battery hens

 

The female chicks are then reared in special cages. At the tender age of 18 weeks they are imprisoned in cages measuring only 45 cm by 50cm.

There may be anywhere from 20,000 to 125,000 hens in a single shed, meaning that the feces and urine from the higher cages fall onto the chickens below, causing highly unsanitary conditions and high levels of ammonia, which cause eye and upper respiratory tract infections that often go unchecked and untreated.

 

 

 

As the hens are deprived of conditions in which they can peck or scratch the ground, they may start to peck each other. To avoid this problem, hens are de-beaked once or perhaps twice during their early life. De-beaking is a painful process in which a red hot blade is used to slice off the tip of the beak, which contains very sensitive tissue.

Chicks are first de-beaked at one day of age and then again at seven weeks as the beak often grows back; this is all done without the use of anesthetics. Sometimes the pain is so great that the hens cannot eat let alone preen or drink and subsequently may starve to death.

Even when the hens can eat, they have to stretch their necks over “feeder fences,” which eventually wears away their neck feathers and causes throat blisters.

 To get the hens to lay more eggs the light conditions and food in their quarters are controlled, and a single hen is thus forced to produce anywhere from 250 to 290 eggs per year whereas in nature, they would normally only lay 12 to 24 eggs a year.

These unnatural conditions causes great discomfort and various diseases in the reproductive systems of the young hens. Deprived of movement, bits of egg often clog their oviducts of the female birds, eventually leading to inflammation and then paralysis. Also, eggs are often formed that are too big to be laid causing the uterus to collapse or become displaced as the chickens are forced to expel oversized eggs on a daily basis.

Disease

The terrible, unsanitary conditions on industrial egg farms have also produced a number of new medical problems, including fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome, in which the liver swells and develops blood clots. Salmonella bacteria also enter the chickens’ oviducts, infecting eggs which are eventually consumed by humans.

Also due to lack of exercise and calcium deficiencies the hens also suffer from osteoporosis, which causes their bones to break very easily.

In fact, according to research from Bristol University more than 29% of these birds have broken bones, which may lead to death as they are unable to reach their food.

All dead birds are removed or are simply left to rot with the living, thus increasing their distress and the incidence of disease. The average hen lays eggs for just one year before being slaughtered as their capacity to lay diminishes.

Broiler chickens

The 9 billion chickens annually raised for meat, known as broiler chickens, also suffer horrendously. From the start of their young lives the chicks are crammed into windowless sheds, with anywhere from 45,000 to more than 100,000 animals per shed.

The light in the sheds is artificially controlled to get the chicks to eat as much as possible. The goal of this industry is to get the chicks fat as rapidly as possible. Thus the chicks are genetically bred and selected to grow quickly; in fact, these babies reach adult size after only six to seven weeks, whereas in nature, it may take more than six months. In addition, the birds are fed growth-promoting drugs and antibiotics.

Due to their abnormal size and growth the birds suffer from many life-threatening and debilitating conditions, and their heavy body weight means that their legs often cannot support them. They are left crippled and lame, and also the accumulation of waste and hence concentrated ammonia causes sores and burns to blister the feet and legs of these sensitive creatures.

They also suffer prematurely from diseases of old age such as problems of the heart and lungs as these organs are unable to cope with the rapid muscle growth. At only a few weeks of age many of these birds die from heart attacks and breathing problems or suffer from cardiac arrhythmias and fluid build-up in the chest. Add to this low oxygen levels, unhygienic conditions and choking, burning ammonia and other gases in the air. In nature these animals can live for more than ten years.

Transport and slaughter

So what end do the hens and broiler chickens face? They are grabbed and packed into crates for transport to the slaughterhouse. By the time the birds arrive at their final destination 98% will have broken bones.

The hens are then stunned by electric shock, after which they are shackled by their feet and have their throats cut so that they will bleed to death.

The birds are then dipped in scalding water to help remove their feathers. However, the high voltage shock they receive causes their weakened bones to splinter as the muscles contract. This is problematic for the meat industry, and to get around it, the voltage may be reduced, meaning the chickens may still be conscious when they have their throats cut and are dipped into the scalding tank of water.

The hens are then used to make chicken soup or canned meals for animal companions or for reconstituted meats in school meals. The fate of free-range chickens is not much better.

Click here to find out how you can help!

Read more here on factory farming or visit the section on other issues regarding animals.

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Find out what it's like to live in a battery cage. Take the 3D virtual tour.

 

 

 

 

 

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