Society often paints chickens as mindless birds, lacking the cognition to experience complex thoughts or feelings. This gross misconception could be attributed to the lack of time most humans spend with them, often only ever seeing them on dinner plates where they have been reduced to nothing more than faceless pieces of flesh.

Perhaps this perceived lack of complexity makes it easier to justify exploiting them for our own purposes and failing to recognise their inherent will to live and desire for agency. Despite this, there is significant literature proving that chickens are not only intelligent, but self aware and emotional individuals.

Breeding

Parent birds are descendants of eggs bought from breeder companies that have genetically manipulated birds so their offspring will grow rapidly in a short amount of time

Breeder flocks are housed in large ‘parent bird’ sheds, which contain breeder boxes where females lay their eggs. There are typically ten hens to each rooster. Parent birds’ feed is restricted to prevent them from becoming too large, which would affect their ability to breed. This could mean that breeder birds experience perpetual hunger.


Broiler eggs collected in a hatchery. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality

Eggs are collected from breeder farms and taken to hatcheries. Breeder flocks are typically exploited for 64 weeks before their production slows. They are then slaughtered for their flesh and replaced with a new breeder flock to repeat the process.

Hatchery

Once mother hens have their eggs taken from them, the eggs are incubated in a hatchery for 21 days. Once hatched, chicks are sorted by workers to remove any considered to be sick, injured or ‘abnormal’. The chicks removed are killed on-site; the two most common methods used are maceration and carbon dioxide gassing.


Newly hatched chicks at a broiler hatchery. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality

A macerator is a large industrial machine with rotating blades that grinds up chicks up alive. Alternatively, when chicks are killed using carbon dioxide gassing, they are put into small gas chambers that release CO2 gas. Covert footage has revealed chicks killed in this way can take more than a minute to die as they desperately gasp for air.


An industrial macerator. Image: Farm Transparency Project

Rapid growth 

Years of genetic manipulation and selective breeding has meant that the modern-day broiler chicken grows at a rate 300% faster than birds bred in the 1960s. Larger birds are considered advantageous by the chicken meat industry as this means more flesh is produced to sell for profit. Sadly, this has resulted in chickens experiencing a myriad of painful health complications that cause them needless suffering in their short lifetimes.

Broiler chickens commonly experience joint issues, splayed legs and difficulty walking. They often become too heavy to support their own weight, which can result in them being unable to access food or water. It has been observed that broiler chickens aged between 5-7 weeks spend 76-86% of their time lying down due to lameness, often resulting in breast, hock and foot lesions due to prolonged contact with soiled litter.


A broiler chicken who has become stuck on their back. Image: Dillon Watkin

Broiler chickens suffer from metabolic and skeletal issues caused by rapid growth, resulting in pain and suffering, and sometimes death. It has been found that up to 90% of chickens have an identifiably abnormal gait when they reach slaughter age.

Every year in Australia, approximately 169,000,000 broiler chickens will suffer from skeletal issues and lameness impairing their ability to move.

Further, rapid growth commonly causes the tendons in chickens’ legs to rupture due to the excessive weight placed on them.


Broiler chicken with splayed legs. Image: Animals Within 

Broiler chickens commonly die from sudden death syndrome (flip-over) and pulmonary hypertension (ascites), both caused by rapid growth. Sudden death syndrome is a metabolic disorder that occurs in 1-4% of broiler chickens, commonly causing convulsions as they die. Ascites occurs when their juvenile hearts have to pump harder to move enough blood around their overgrown bodies, which leads to heart failure and fluid build-up.

Housing

Chickens raised for meat are typically confined in large industrial sheds, where they will never spend any time in natural sunlight, be able to stretch their wings or dust bathe. Up to 60,000 individuals can be crammed into just one shed.


Intensive chicken shed. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

Chickens live on the same litter for their entire lives, which is typically wet and soiled as a result of their inability to escape from the shed. Ammonia, a colourless gas with a distinctive smell, is produced in chicken urine. Consequently, chicken sheds have high levels of ammonia, causing burns to chickens’ bodies and often leading to a condition called footpad dermatitis.

Feed and water is provided to chickens using an automated system. Consequently, on some farms chickens aren’t checked on for days at a time, which exposes these beings to the suffering of dead and dying flock mates around them.


Chicken standing beneath an automatic water feeder. Image: Animal Uncovered.

Just 10-15% of chickens reared for their flesh are kept in ‘free-range’ systems. These birds still suffer unimaginably due to rapid growth, massive stocking densities and are killed in the same way as confined chickens. Broiler chickens in free-ranging systems are not given access to the outdoors until they reach three weeks of age, meaning they only have access to enclosed outdoor areas for three weeks of their lives. Furthermore, by the time broiler chickens reach three weeks of age their bodies have already endured rapid growth, and many will not go outside due to lameness or the difficulty of engaging in physical exertion.

Slaughter 


Broiler chickens being removed from sheds to be trucked to slaughter. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality 

Broiler chickens are killed between 6 to 8 weeks old. They are removed from sheds in the darkness of night, often violently, then put into small crates to be trucked to their death at a slaughterhouse. It is common for chickens’ legs and wings to become stuck between the crates or the metal bars of the truck, causing them unimaginable pain and suffering, sometimes even death, before they even arrive.


Chicken aboard a slaughter truck. Image: Animals Uncovered.

At the slaughterhouse chickens are shackled upside down by their feet. Their bodies are pulled through an electrified body of water (stun bath), intended to render them unconscious before their throats are cut. It is not uncommon for chickens to lift their heads, missing the stun bath and therefore having their throats cut while they are fully conscious.

Other legally mandated methods of slaughtering chickens are decapitation and neck dislocation.


Chickens on the slaughter line. Image: Jo-Anne McCarthur / We Animals 

Environmental issues

Deforestation 

The poultry sector requires large amounts of crops to be grown for feed. In 2018, it was estimated that a whopping 450 million tonnes of feed was accounted for by the broiler and layer hen sectors globally. This feed is mostly made up of soybeans, cereals and fishmeal.

Feed production is the most significant contributor to the poultry sector’s global warming potential. This is because some feed ingredients, particularly soy and palm oil, are produced on newly deforested land, particularly in South America and South-East Asia.

Soy crops. Image: WWF.

Trees play a crucial role in capturing GHG emissions such as carbon dioxide, keeping them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming the planet. When trees are cleared, they release their stored CO2. As such, deforestation emits a vast amount of carbon dioxide

Between 70-75% of soy grown is fed to livestock. Only 6% is turned into food for human consumption. The poultry sector accounted for 75% of the soybean meal used by the livestock sector in 2004.

Clearing of vegetation is devastating to native people and animals, and has resulted in considerable losses in biodiversity

Overexploitation of natural resources

It is estimated that 40% of global fishmeal production is used for livestock feed, 13% of which is fed to poultry. The overexploitation of fisheries is causing a serious threat to biodiversity. It is estimated that 77% of the global fish stocks are either fully fished or over-exploited.

Overfishing poses a threat not only to targeted species, but the entire marine ecosystem, as many species rely on fish as a food source. It is also estimated that a massive 40% of marine animals caught from the oceans each year is accounted for as bycatch, which includes sharks, sea turtles, seals and dolphins.

Large fishing vessel pulling aboard thousands of individuals.

Water pollution 

The production of poultry also generates a considerable amount of water pollution. Poultry excrete between 50 and 80% of the nitrogen that they consume. Leaching and run-off of nitrogen can contaminate ground and surface water. Eutrophication is when a body of water becomes over-enriched with minerals (like nitrogen) causing algae blooms and depletion of oxygen, consequently killing marine life. 

Human impacts

Prevalence of intensive farming systems in disadvantaged communities 

Factory farms have an impact upon the health of the surrounding communities. Locals are often exposed to hazardous material and airborne particulate matter. Intensive farms are placed disproportionately in disadvantaged communities. These communities suffer the health implications associated with living in such close proximity to these facilities, whilst simultaneously often having inequitable access to healthcare and support. The prevalence of intensive farms in these communities compounds the racial and economic injustices faced by the community, and consequently amounts to environmental racism.

Meat processing plant. Image: Tyson Foods.

Mental and physical health of abattoir workers 

Abattoirs are known for being unsafe workplaces, with workers commonly suffering from work-related upper limb musculoskeletal disorders, as well as being exposed to extremities of temperatures, intense noise, harsh chemicals and bacteria.

In fact, Human Rights Watch found meatpacking to be “one of the most dangerous factory jobs in America, with injury rates of more than double the national average”.

In addition to being physically unsafe work environments, research has found that continued exposure to violence in abattoirs can have a damaging psychological impact on workers. 

Some abattoir workers even seek help akin to that of war veterans suffering symptoms of anger, anxiety, hostility, and psychoticism. 

Reports have found many workers to suffer from a form of post traumatic stress known as Perpetrator-Induced Traumatic Stress, which describes the anguish trauma involved in committing repeated acts of violence.

To learn more about the human related impacts of the animal industrial complex click here.

Alternatives

Plantein 

Plantein is an incredible faux schnitzel available at major supermarket Woolworths. This is a schnitzel that is spot on in taste, texture and portion size, it is crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Perfect in a schnitzel sandwich with vegan cheese and mayo. Yum!

Plantein is a 100% plant-based company, so you can buy any of their products and feel confident no animals were harmed.

Other options available:

Fry’s family nuggets 

Fry Family rice protein & chia nuggets are fantastic! These are a perfect snack for the whole family or an alternative to takeaway for the kids. Whatever the occasion, these nuggets will not disappoint even the fussiest of eaters.

Fry’s family is a 100% plant-based company, so you can buy any of their products and feel confident no animals were harmed in their production.

Fry’s Family nuggets are available at major supermarkets Woolworths and Coles.

Some other choices available:

  • Quorn (clearly marked vegan items including their nuggets)
  • Herb and sons (clearly marked vegan items including their nuggets)

Vegie delight: Crispy chicken-style burger

These Vegie Delight crispy style chicken burgers are delicious, perfect for making a mock chicken burger with. They are versatile and go well sliced up and added to stir fries or burritos. There are four in a pack, perfect for feeding the entire family. Try them today; you won’t turn back!

Available at major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.

Vegie delight is a 100% plant-based company, so you can buy any of their products and feel confident no animals were harmed in their production.

Some other available options:

Gardein: Sweet and tangy barbecue wings

Delicious, sweet, tangy and cruelty-free! You don’t have to give up your favourites to live a kinder life, Gardein has got you covered! There are approximately ten wings in each serving: a perfect appetiser, snack or the heart of a meal for two. 

Gardein is a 100% plant-based company, so you can buy any of their products and feel confident no animals were harmed in their production.

These wings can be purchased at the Cruelty-Free Shop, or some IGAs.

Gardein: Seven Grain Crispy Tenders 

Worried you will miss out on your favourite oven snacks? Don’t worry, Gardein has got you covered! These tenders are a crowd-pleaser: crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside – a family favourite. Be sure to add these to your shopping list!

Gardein is a 100% plant-based company, so you can buy any of their products and feel confident no animals were harmed in their production.

Other available options:

  • Herb and sons (clearly marked vegan options including their sweet chilli tenders)