Credit to Woodley Wonderworks https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Creative_Commons
Chickens are sociable, intelligent animals. Their natural behavior includes living in stable groups of 30 or so that employ a social hierarchy (the origin of the term pecking order). The chickens in a given flock all know and recognize each other. Their communal activities include scratching and pecking for food, running around, taking dust baths, and resting. They crow and chirp in a range of some 30 meaningful vocalizations. Chickens also have a strong urge to nest, and, like most animal mothers, they nurture their young attentively and affectionately. A hen carefully tends her eggs in the nest, turning them up to five times an hour and clucking to them; remarkably, the unborn chicks chirp back to her and to one another.
Through the 1950s, even chickens raised for eventual slaughter were kept in traditional small coops of no more than 60 or so birds, with free access to the outdoors; they could nest, roost, and share space according to their natural behavior. But modern large-scale farming practices (“factory farming”) give chickens no opportunity to behave according to their nature. Quite the contrary—the reality of the life and death of factory-farmed chickens, both those raised for meat and those used to lay eggs, is shocking.
As in all factory-farming industries, chicken production is designed for maximum efficiency and maximum profit. With these goals, regard for the welfare of the animals involved is a luxury that reduces profits unless the extra costs can be passed on to the consumer (as on the much-publicized but less frequently seen “free-range” meat and egg farms). The results are overcrowding, disease, high death rates, and observable unhappiness for the animals involved.
Bob Nichols | Credit: United States Department of Agriculture
The birds raised for meat, called “broilers” by the industry, are the product of genetic manipulation that has drastically increased breast and thigh tissue (the most popular parts of the animal) and produced a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs and organs. Broilers raised in this way are supposed to reach “slaughter weight” at just six or seven weeks of age, but the death toll is very high. The growth of abnormally heavy bodies causes crippling and painful skeletal deformities, and the overburdening of the birds’ underdeveloped cardiopulmonary systems often causes congestive heart failure before they are six weeks old. Some broiler chickens who do not succumb to these problems still die of thirst, because they are physically unable to even reach the water nozzles in their sheds. Other common causes of death pre-slaughter are heat prostration, cancer—in an animal less than seven weeks old—and infectious diseases.
Broiler-chicken facilities tend to be extremely overcrowded, with tens of thousands of birds crammed into a single closed broiler house. Each chicken is given less than a square foot of space, so hardly any floor is actually visible. The birds are unable to roam, to scratch, or, indeed, to avoid each other at all. Their instinct to live in a hierarchical community is thwarted, and social tension results. Chickens living in these stressful conditions will peck and fight with each other, which has led chicken producers to the “solution” of debeaking chicks shortly after they hatch in order to minimize damage. This debeaking process, like much else in factory farming, is run assembly-line fashion, without anesthesia; the chicks are placed beak-first into an apparatus that quickly cuts the tips off the beaks with a hot blade.
Once the chickens have attained slaughter weight, they are loaded into crowded trucks that offer no protection from extreme temperatures, and many birds die as they are shipped to processing facilities. The most efficient of these facilities kill some 8,400 birds per hour, the result of a high degree of automation.
Machines run by humans automatically stun the birds, cut their throats, and scald and pluck them. First, human workers strap the live chickens into leg shackles on a moving rail, from which the birds hang upside-down as they move on to baths of electrified water, which stuns them. This is ostensibly for humane purposes, in order to render them insensible before their throats are cut, but some observers believe it is done merely to immobilize them to a degree sufficient to make further processing easier, not to desensitize them. The stunned birds move on to a mechanical blade that cuts their throats. After the chickens bleed out, they are plunged into a scalding bath that removes feathers. Unfortunately, this high-speed assembly-line process contains potential missteps. The voltage in the electrified bath may be too low, resulting in the rapid recovery of the chickens, who are then well aware of the throat-cutting machine as they approach it. The blade misses many chickens, so they consequently are boiled alive in the scalding bath.Chickens are exempted from the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered.