Chicken factory farms are "intensive, highly mechanised units that occupy relatively small areas compared with conventional farming."3 They aim to produce the most amount of meat in the shortest time and for the least cost – an approach that is fundamentally at odds with chicken welfare.
Denial of natural behaviours
Like humans, chickens can feel pain as well as a range of emotions including fear, anxiety, boredom, frustration, discomfort and distress.4 Factory farming disregards the fact that chickens have this emotional experience of the world.
Chickens naturally live in small communities of up to 30 birds, forming complex social groups with special roles for individuals.5 They communicate using sounds, postures and visual displays,6 and can recognise 100 of their kind.7 Living in close confinement with tens of thousands of other chickens must be overwhelming for such social animals, yet current laws allow chickens to be stocked at a density of about 20 birds per square metre.8 This leaves each fully grown chicken with personal space approximately the size of an A4 page.9
Chickens are subjected to artificial lighting for hours on end to increase feeding time and productivity, and to control aggression resulting from high stocking density.10
Standing on a floor increasingly comprised of their own faeces11 and struggling for personal space, chickens kept in intensive conditions are deprived of a meaningful quality of life. They may never see sunlight and have no opportunity to perform some of their most fundamental behaviours such as roosting and nurturing their young.12 About 90% of chickens in Australia are raised in this way.13
In 1975 it took approximately 64 days for a chicken to reach slaughter weight. Now, due to selective breeding techniques used by the chicken meat industry to efficiently produce higher quantities of meat, a chicken can be ready for slaughter in just 35 days.14
Rapid body growth can cause all sorts of problems for factory farmed chickens. Some grow so big that their legs are unable to support their own body weight. They may suffer broken bones, swollen joints and spinal damage, causing unimaginable pain. Bone weakness often results in degenerative diseases, with increasing pain and discomfort as chickens grow. This also makes chickens more likely to suffer fractures when they become agitated or when they are moved.15
The fast growth rate puts enormous pressure on the heart and lungs, causing acute heart failure in millions of chickens every year.16
Selective breeding for large breast muscles puts pressure on the undeveloped skeleton and chickens find it difficult to support this mass. They crouch in increasingly corrosive wet litter and develop painful breast blisters.17
The law is not on their side
In Australia, there are State and Territory animal welfare laws18 that purport to protect animals but in reality, the fundamental interests of most farm animals, including chickens, are not protected by law. National Model Codes of Practice apply in addition to some animal welfare laws; however, these Codes also fail to provide true protection. To make matters worse, they are often used to justify many cruel factory farming practices.19 The current Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (version 4) (the Poultry Code) is no exception.
- Read our in-depth report: From Nest to Nugget: an exposé of Australia's chicken factories
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- 1. Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc., Industry Facts and Figures (2011) Australian Chicken Meat Federation http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=4.
- 2. Dr Vivien Kite, Growing Meat Chickens (7 September 2007) Australian Chicken Grower’s Council http://www.acgc.org.au/resource_material/more/28/
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Donald M. Broom and K.G. Johnson, Stress and Animal Welfare (Chapman & Hall, 1993) Chapter 2; D.B. Morton, ‘Does Broiler Welfare Matter, and to Whom?’ in Claire Weeks and Andrew Butterworth (eds), Measuring and Auditing Broiler Welfare (CABI Publishing, 2004) 242, 246-247.
- 5. Joy A. Mench, and Linda J. Keeling, ‘The Social Behaviour of Domestic Birds’ in Linda J. Keeling and Harold W. Gonyou (eds), Social Behaviour in Farm Animals (CABI Publishing, 2001) 187; Joy A. Mench , ‘Behaviour of Fowl and Other Domesticated Birds’ in Per Jensen (ed), The Ethology of Domestic Animals: An Introductory Text (CABI Publishing, 2002) 104.
- 6. Christoper S. Evans and Linda Evans, ‘Representational signalling in birds’ (2007) 3 Biology Letters 8 <http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/1/8.full>; Michael C. Appleby, Joy A. Mench and Barry O. Hughes, Poultry Behaviour and Welfare (CABI Publishing, 2004) 72.
- 7. Joy A. Mench quoted in Michael Specter, ‘The Extremist,’ The New Yorker (New York), 14 April 2003, 64 http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2003-04-14#folio=052.
- 8. Space allowance varies based on the weight of the chicken and the State/Territory in which the bird is being raised. The figure cited assumes a slaughter weight of just under 2kg per bird. Modern facilities with ‘tunnel ventilation systems’ are permitted to keep more chickens per square metre than systems without tunnel or mechanical ventilation systems. See Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Poultry, (4th edition) (2002), sections 2, 3 and Appendix 2; Animal Care & Protection Regulation 2002 (Qld) regulation 15; Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulation 2000 (SA) regulation 13O(b); Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Domestic Fowl) Regulations 2006 (Vic) (January 2009) http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/about-agriculture/legislation-regu....
- 9. This statement is based on the assumption of 20 two kilogram birds being kept per square meter, averaging 500 cm2 per bird for meat chickens. An A4 page, with sides of 21.0 cm x 29.7 cm, has an area of 623.7 cm2.
- 10. H.A. Olanrewaju, J.P. Thaxton, W.A. Dozier III, J. Purswell, W.B. Roush and S.L. Branton, ‘A Review of Lighting Programs for Broiler Production’ (2006) 5(4) International Journal of Poultry Sciences, 301-308; Gerry Bolla, ‘Lighting of Poultry’, Prime Facts (April 2007) NSW Department of Primary Industries http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/212974/Lighting-of....
- 11. Growers use an “all in/all out” system which means that floors of sheds are not cleaned for the duration of the lives of a group of chickens: Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc., Growing Meat Chickens (2011) Australian Chicken Meat Federation http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=6.
- 12. Personal communication with Carole de Fraga, Regional Representative, Compassion in World Farming, 19 September 2008 and 14 October 2008.
- 13. Based on estimates by Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Ltd, Facts & Figures (2009) http://www.frepa.com.au/frepa-accredited-farms-some-facts-and-figures/.
- 14. Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc., Efficiency of Chicken Meat in Australia (2011) Australian Chicken Meat Federation http://www.chicken.org.au/files/_system/Image/Graphs/Efficiency%20of%20C....
- 15. See Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW), The Welfare of Chickens Kept for Meat Production (Broilers) (Report No. SANCO.B3/AH/R15/2000) (2000) European Commission: Brussels <http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scah/out39_en.pdf>. Unfortunately no such report has been commissioned in Australia and the practices of most growers are hidden behind closed doors.
- 16. Based on the estimate that up to 0.5% of Australia’s 550 million chickens are affected by Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS). This figure is a conservative estimate based on the reported incidence of between 0.1 and 3% for SDS in Europe. See Ibid, p. 41
- 17. Ibid 64.
- 18. Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1986 (Vic); Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1979 (NSW); Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld); Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA); Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA); Animal Welfare Act 1993 (Tas); Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT); Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT).
- 19. Compliance with a code of practice may be used as a defence to a charge of animal cruelty or evidence to counter a charge of animal cruelty under most state legislation: Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1979 (NSW) section 34A; Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld) sections 16, 38 and 40; Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) section 43; Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1986 (Vic) section 6); Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA) section 25; Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) section 79.