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Meat chickens (broilers)

Lifespan

A chicken’s natural lifespan is 7-9 years. Chickens used by the meat industry (broilers) are usually killed after only 6 weeks.

Natural behaviour

Similar to laying hens, broilers are also social animals (live in groups and form a social hierarchy). They like to spread their wings, to dust bathe, to explore and express foraging behaviour like ground pecking and scratching.

Why do we keep them as farm animals

We keep them to produce meat and meat products.

How do broilers live on farms

Broilers are raised in intensive production systems, and are usually kept indoors. The goal is to produce as much quantity as possible of the final product for the shortest period of time and with the lowest possible cost. On breeding farms (farms that supply broilers) males are bred with the females and hens lay their eggs in incubators without possibility for nesting. After hatching, one day old chicks are removed to farms for fattening.

Farms for fattening broilers

After being placed in indoor housing systems broilers stay there until they reach 42 days of age when they reach their ideal weight for slaughter which is 2 kg. Buildings can house up to 50 000 individuals. Lightning in these buildings is managed in a way that light period can last up to 23h in order for broilers to keep eating and growing. Also there is a possibility of dim light which can cause decrease in activity but not interfere with the fattening process. Due to extremely fast growth, broilers often develop heart and leg problems (bones begin to deform because the legs are too weak to support the body weight). If a chicken can’t walk, it will die of hunger and thirst. In these chickens breast burns (contact dermatitis) is visible and caused by prolonged contact between the bird’s skin and wet and dirty litter. It is worth mentioning that the same bedding material (straw, sawdust, wood shavings, etc.) can be left for all 6 weeks. Since it absorbs large quantities of excrement (feces and urine) it is filled with ammonia (which causes burns). This can be regulated by keeping the litter in friable (loose) condition in order to prevent buildup of harmful materials.

With regards to nutrition, even though poultry are herbivores, chickens have been known to eat worms or snails as well while foraging for food. However, on farms, they receive prepared food in the shape of powder concentrates. The foundation of their feed are the plant based feedstuffs such as corn, wheat, sunflower and soybean seeds, but broilers are also fed animal based concentrates. This concentrates are based on fish meal or meat and bone meal. That’s why sometimes, chicken meat can smell of fish. It is important to remember that using animal protein in broiler diet does not affect their growth (specially selected chicken breeds for meat production always grow by same rate and achieve the same weight as the broilers fed animal based concentrates). Lower price as the only argument in defense of animal based concentrates looses its value if we know that long-term consumption of chicken meat produced in that way has adverse health effects in people.

DID YOU KNOW?

Broilers are the last category of farm animals to have their welfare regulated by the EU legislation.