06 Jan CHICKENS USED FOR THEIR FLESH
Nothing quite prepares you for the broiler shed – the lives that passed before you arrived decaying and being
The life and death of a chicken born and raised for their flesh is one of immense suffering, no matter what ‘situation’ they are born into and the method used to steal their life.
Chickens raised for their flesh today are a far cry from their ancestors, the Red Jungle Fowl who were subjugated over 5,000 years ago from the jungles of Asia. Once colourful, active, capable of flight and living to well over 10 years of age, the rare chicken today spared from being killed as a mere baby in a giant body is considered extremely lucky to reach just one year old.
THE CURRENT COMMERCIAL REALITY
The Lovely Family Tree
Breeder Birds – Great Grandparents, Grandparents
and Parent Birds
The selective breeding of chickens with ‘desirable’ ie ‘most profitable’ traits is key to this industry that seeks to ensure one chicken will grow to produce the most consumable amount of flesh possible in the shortest amount of time. Whilst reproductive fitness, feed conversion efficiency, leg strength and resistance to metabolic conditions and disease are now also considered in the selective breeding process, unlike in the 1960’s where the entire focus was on rapid growth, this is not due to concerns for the individuals welfare, but further attempts to maximise profits.
The ‘nucleus’ of these very carefully and continuously ‘improved’ ‘Great Grandparent’ birds (as the industry refers to them) are imported as fertile hatching eggs from the USA and Europe into Australia and around the globe. They are hatched inside quarantine facilities where they will spend the first nine weeks of their lives. Never experiencing the loving nurture of their mothers, they will be tested regularly for disease before being transported to sheds, called ‘breeder farms’. Here they will live inside at all times, crowded and under unnatural lighting, scheduled to maximise laying, with one male to every 10 females who will be mated continuously. If she survives the year, each Great Grandparent hen will lay approximately 100 fertile eggs before being killed along with the roosters at just one year old. She will never have the opportunity to brood over her own eggs or nurture her babies once they hatch, as all her fertile eggs will be taken from her and transported to a hatchery.
Here, once hatched, will be the ‘Grandparent’ flock, who, if holding ‘desirable traits’ will endure a similar life, however, will be transported to a shed at just one day old. Further selective breeding will occur as approximately 120 fertile eggs per hen are produced before all are killed at just 14 months old. Their babies, the ‘Parent’ birds will also enter this world in a sterile hatching facility before being transported into large sheds. For much of their 15 months of life the frustrated males will repeatedly mate the hens who cannot escape and will in turn lay approximately 160 fertile eggs throughout their miserable lives. The unnatural large size of these chickens and continuous mating by roosters they cannot escape results in painful wounds on the sides of the hens’ bodies that will never receive veterinary attention and care.
These Parent birds chicks, also born inside a hatchery, will be the dead chickens that wind up on our shelves to be eaten, falling under all categories including “free-range”, “ethicurean”, “organic”, “paddock-to-plate”, but not before they too also endure a short and miserable existence to be explained shortly.
When hatching birds in all three of these processes of Great Grandparents, Grandparents and Parent birds, excess males who are naturally 50% of the hatched chicks and therefore resulting in many who are unwanted, will either be ‘culled’ ie gassed to death or ground up alive at just one day old, or allowed to live to 5-8 weeks old to be slaughtered for their flesh[i]. Also throughout these three processes regular ‘grading’ takes place to maintain the desirable traits. Any birds outside the uniform weight; those displaying spine, feet or leg deformities; those with poor beaks or poor feather development; those with poor comb
Every decision made, every step taken, is taken in regards to getting the most money out of one individuals life in the shortest amount of time. The ability for chickens to reproduce so quickly compared to other species, with eggs only taking 3 weeks to hatch, is one of the reasons they are seen as such a valuable commodity to exploit on such a mass scale over being seen for the wonderful individuals they are.
THE LIFE ENDURED BY THE DEAD CHICKENS PEOPLE EAT
According to the Australian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF) approximately 99% of the chickens raised for their flesh in Australia are raised in broiler sheds. Transported in crates at just one day old they are dumped like worthless objects onto the shed floor where they will be left to fend for themselves for the next 5-8 weeks, if they survive that long.
Just one broiler shed will confine anywhere from 40-60,000 birds. Each bird will be allocated the space of approximately an A4 sheet of paper – 28-34kg/m²[iii]. This makes it impossible for the chickens to establish a pecking order as they would in a naturally occurring small flock resulting in constant mayhem and confusion where no one knows their place.
Chickens, like all birds, daily living cycles are dictated by the rise and fall of the sun. Even this very natural and basic process, essential to their general sense of wellbeing is taken from them, as unnatural and drawn out lighting schedules are used to encourage less rest and higher consumption of constantly available, high protein feed. This, combined with their genetic manipulation results in birds growing three times their natural body weight in just a few weeks. Their skeletons find it immensely difficult to hold up their own weight from the moment they are hatched, so birds will often be in immense pain, suffering deformities, fractures and dislocated joints, often becoming crippled under their own weight. Many struggle and are even unable to walk the few steps to access feed and water. Those humans who consume the carcasses of these tortured souls may have noticed the dark red patches on the knee joints as they devour their flesh. This is the result of hock-burn from chickens spending long amounts of time crouched in the faeces they are forced to live on throughout their short lives.
The Australian broiler chicken industry boasts of the death before slaughter rate as being “only about 4%”[iv]. What they fail to highlight is that in an industry that breeds and murders over 650 million individuals per year, that equates to 26 million chickens who will die often slowly and painfully in the sheds each year as tiny chicks or oversized babies from heart attacks, or drowning on their own fluid due to their organs being unable to cope with their unnatural size.
Dehydration and starvation
It is common practice for broiler sheds to be emptied out over several stages, known as ‘thinning out’. This practice allows companies to sell chickens at varying weights and also creates more space in the sheds for the ever-growing size of the chickens who remain, meaning the exploiters can
The animal flesh industry refers to this as ‘processing’ rather than ‘slaughter’, ‘killing’, or ’murdering’ as it further helps the consumer detach from what it is they are actually supporting. Chickens used for their flesh are slaughtered in the same way as chickens used for their eggs. As just babies, they will be shackled upside down at the slaughterhouse to a metal stirrup attached to a conveyor belt. Terrified, they will panic, flap and fight to live as they are electrically stunned before being automatically dragged along a blade which is intended to slit their throats. Birds who have not been sufficiently stunned can be active when coming to the blade and therefore miss or partly miss the blade, causing them to be plunged into boiling water designed to loosen their feathers whilst alive and fully conscious. This was documented in a recent investigation which featured chickens used for their eggs, however chickens used for their flesh are also killed at this facility under the same process.[v] Gas stunning is another method used in Australian slaughterhouses. Essentially the chickens experience painful asphyxia to death or near death before being shackled and having their throats slit.
Taking the life of someone who wants to live is a task most humans would prefer to not engage in. Those employed to do the dirty work of the majority, do so often out of necessity. Slaughterhouse workers often have very limited employment options through lack of education and/or through being recent migrants to Australia experiencing language and other barriers. The work of killing in fast paced production lines is highly dangerous and classified as one of the most physically dangerous jobs by Human Rights Watch. The mental health and social implications are also horrifying with violent crimes including rape showing shocking increases in occurrence once slaughterhouses move into areas.[vi]
RSPCA APPROVED, FREE-RANGE, PASTURE-RAISED, PADDOCK TO PLATE AND SO ON
Significant growth in the
A miniscule number of chickens, comparatively, are raised in the growing sector of self-termed ‘small-scale producers’, ‘regenerative farmers’, ‘ethicurean producers’, or ‘pasture raised systems’. These systems are very misleading and exist not for the benefit of the chickens but for their exploiters who can charge a premium price for the animals whose dead bodies they claim “taste better”, whilst often also putting themselves up on a pedestal as messiahs saving the planet.
One process of raising chickens in these small-scale exploitation industries is to house them in 4 x 4 metre aluminium and wire mobile pens that can be moved around the farm onto fresh grass regularly. Chickens are still crowded into these pens at a rate of approximately 5 birds per square metre. One self-proclaimed ‘kind’ exploiter casually referring to them as “couch potatoes that are like weird pugs” in an attempt to justify keeping them in such confined spaces. These chickens have still been purchased as one day old Cornish Cross Cobb or Ross breeds, bred from the same horrific three stage systems of suffering listed above. They maintain all of the physical ailments of their less fortunate shed bound relatives, cannot develop important social structures, nor roam freely in open spaces and of course are killed just the same whilst only babies. It is not possible to purchase heritage breeds to scale in Australia but if it were and they were raised under this less cruel although still confined system, the cost to purchase one dead chicken from the supermarket shelf would be approximately $60.
Industry sources estimate three million chickens were produced for meat in Australia in 1950-1951, compared with around 653 million in 2016-17.[ix] The scale of the torture and abuse from this utterly shameful industry is hard to fathom. Few species are as vulnerable as the humble chicken. Their cruel exploitation says a lot about our species and the cowardly way we will subject such immense suffering and ultimately the taking of life onto individuals just because we can.
Anyone who has lived with chickens liberated from the meat industry as I have been fortunate enough to do knows just how unique these individuals are from one to the next. Yet, one thing is always common. Their desire to live and live well is infectious. They are cheeky and inquisitive, their daily exploration of a large garden only just enough to satisfy their curiosity as they peck, dust bathe and stretch their legs and wings out in the sun. communicating with each other in ways we as onlookers are not privileged or skilful enough to fully understand. Stopping often to rest as they tire under their own weight, they are back up again as soon as they are able, getting the most out of every moment. Even once their bodies have begun to breakdown from premature arthritis, heart conditions and obesity they persevere until the very end.
I have held in my arms too many dying chickens from this atrocious, and despicable industry to count, from tiny chicks, to 18 month olds trapped in the bodies of very old men and women.
These are the lucky ones.
Author: Kristin Leigh
Occupation: Communications Manager & Volunteer Coordinator
Founder and President Vegan Rising