Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn’t matter, or do you do it because it tastes good?
― Jonathan S. Foer, Eating Animals
When you think of a chicken, it is normal to imagine one clucking around a farm, perhaps pecking for seeds in the dirt, or resting in the cozy sanctuary of a hen-house. However, many people are growing increasingly aware that the picturesque days of farm life have ended. Gone are the small hen-houses of “Old MacDonald,” and in their place have risen industrial coops and battery cages of factory farming. America now consumes more chicken than any other country on the planet, and the demand on factory farms has never been greater.
90 percent of all chickens born in the U.S. never get the freedom to run, fly or even explore outside of the barn. The lucky ones remain actual chickens – not bloody, mangled messes. The rest are raised in factory farms, and their fates are chosen by their type: either broiler or layer.
A broiler is a domesticated chicken born and raised solely for its meat. It is fed every day on the absolute minimum amount of feed to keep it alive, in order to save money. The feed is mixed with antibiotic supplements to stimulate growth and keep it from getting sick from the poor living conditions, bacteria and feces that it encounters on a daily basis.
One to four percent of broilers die from the shock or stress of their environment. Another five percent die from the excess fluids that fill their body. 75 percent will have a walking impairment because their legs are not built to support the weight of their bodies.
Broilers are kept in sheds that typically house 30,000 to 50,000 chickens, with minimal space for movement. Exercise causes weight loss, and the last thing a farmer wants is for the chickens to lose weight. A chicken’s life expectancy was once 15-25 years. For a broiler chicken, that life is cut to 39 to 42 days.
A layer is a hen that is kept in constant production of eggs. Some eggs are artificially inseminated to create more chickens. The rest are packaged and sold in grocery stores all over the world. The male offspring of layer chickens are destroyed the moment their gender has been identified because they are of no use to the farmer. They were not artificially inseminated with hormones to become larger, so they cannot grow to be broilers, and as males they cannot grow to become layers. Therefore, they are quite literally tossed in the trash.
Female layers also reside in large sheds. They are kept in battery cages stacked a dozen rows high. They also have limited movement and never see the sun or peck the dirt.
Factory farms dominate the meat industry. They are designed for efficiency to reap the largest profit possible. They are not designed to care for animals, or even to provide healthy food for humans. Chickens no longer live as animals, but as products of a machine.
The next time you see chicken nuggets on the menu, ask yourself if they are worth it. Does a few seconds of pleasure make up for the suffering of billions of birds annually? Let us know where you stand in the comments below.