By Farm Sanctuary, March 2014
Chicken Used for Egg
Chickens used for egg production are among the most abused of all farm animals. In order to meet the consumer demand for eggs, 280 million hens laid 77.3 billion eggs in 2007. From hatching to slaughter, egg-laying hens are subjected to mutilation, confinement, and deprivation of the ability to live their lives as the active, social beings they are.
• Because male chicks will not grow up to lay eggs and, therefore, have little value to the egg industry, 260 million are killed each year upon hatching. Methods include being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified “kill plate,” being ground up alive and fully conscious in a “macerator,” or being gassed.
• Female chicks are “debeaked” at a young age, most commonly having a portion of their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Debeaking is meant to prevent the abnormal feather-pecking that can result from the stress of confinement in a battery cage. A chicken’s beak is filled with nerves, and debeaking can result in severe and possibly chronic pain.
• 95% of egg-laying hens spend their lives in battery cages. Battery cages commonly hold 5–10 birds, and each chicken may be given an amount of floor space equivalent to less than a sheet of letter-size paper. Constantly rubbing against and standing on wire cages, hens suffer severe feather loss, and their bodies become covered with bruises and abrasions.
• Today’s hen, selectively bred and artificially induced to yield high egg production, will produce more than 250 eggs annually, compared to 100 eggs annually a century ago.
• In order to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle when production declines, hens are sometimes starved and denied any food for up to two weeks — a process known as “force molting.”
• The lifespan of an industry chicken would be 5–8 years. However, when egg production declines after 1–2 years, hens are considered “spent” and sent to slaughter. Chickens and turkeys are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act, a federal law that requires some animals to be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter.
• Due to a declining market for “spent” hens, producers often elect to kill them by gassing them with high concentrations of carbon dioxide. In some cases, the gas does not kill the birds, and there have been reports of live hens found at landfills crawling out from piles of decomposing chickens.
Chickens Used for Meat
Every year, 9 billion chickens are slaughtered for meat in the United States. Called “broilers” by the industry, these curious, social birds are treated simply as production units, selectively bred and fed for abnormally fast growth without consideration for their well-being. The resulting large size contributes significantly to suffering, disease, and early death.
• Chickens raised for meat are selectively bred to grow to “market weight” at an alarming pace. In the past 50 years, the amount a chicken used for meat grows each day has increased by more than 300%.
• Chickens in the meat industry typically spend their lives confined to warehouse-like buildings, each packed with as many as 20,000 chickens. On average, the space per chicken is only slightly larger than a sheet of letter-size paper. This crowding can result in scratches and sores from the birds being forced to walk all over each other.
• A 2006 study found that 55% of uncooked chicken purchased from supermarkets contained arsenic, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Arsenic is added to the feed of approximately 70% of the broilers raised each year.
• Since more than one flock is sometimes kept on the same litter before the floor is cleaned, floors can be covered in the waste of tens of thousands of chickens. Excessive ammonia levels that can result from the waste breaking down can lead to health problems for chickens, including difficulty breathing.
• The lights are kept on nearly constantly in the buildings where chickens raised for meat are confined. This can stimulate eating and unnaturally rapid growth and limits the opportunity for chickens to sleep and rest, all of which leads to serious health problems.
• Studies have consistently shown that approximately 26–30% of broiler chickens suffer from difficulty walking because their skeletons have trouble supporting their rapidly growing bodies. This can also lead to deformities and lameness.
• The rapid growth of broiler chickens is often associated with acute heart failure. The hearts and lungs of the rapidly growing birds are not able to effectively get oxygen circulated throughout the body. This problem is the leading cause of death in chickens as they reach “market weight.”
• With bodies taxed beyond belief, chickens who survive their time in production are often slaughtered at just 42 days old. They are still “peeping” the sound of baby chicks when they are killed – even though their bodies have ballooned to the size of giant adult chickens in this short time due to industry practices.
• At the slaughterhouse, there is no law in place requiring chickens to be rendered unconscious before slaughter, and the electrified water bath stunning used has been shown to cause painful shocks before it stuns the birds.