The average “broiler” chicken is raised inside a large industrial barn in groups of 5,000 to 50,000 birds. Chickens are mass-housed on the floor in crowded, barren buildings with automatic feeders and water stations. Birds have genetically selected for fast growth and are administered sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics, also for fast growth. Rapid growth causes them crippling and painful skeletal disorders because their fragile bones cannot support the weight of their large mass. In 1950 in Canada it took 84 days for a broiler chicken to reach the market weight of 1.36 kg, but by 1988, it took only 42 days to produce a 2 kg bird.
Broiler chickens live in extremely crowded, barren environments. By slaughter, each bird has only a half-square foot (465 sq cm) of space. That’s less than the size of a computer mouse pad. These barren and confining conditions deny animals opportunity to express natural behaviours, and lead to physical and behavioural problems. There is social chaos as thousands of chickens mill about, with too many birds for a well-defined pecking order to develop. Normal behaviour patterns are impossible. Individuals become stressed and aggressive to neighbours.
There is near-continuous lighting in the barns: 23 hours on, one hour off, in order to stimulate higher food consumption.
Massive amounts of manure accumulate in the floor litter creating high moisture and ammonia content, which results in the birds suffering litter burn. The air quality also deteriorates, becoming polluted with ammonia, dust and micro-organisms, causing respiratory infections and sores.
In 2003, approximately 600 million chickens were slaughtered in Canada.
For more information on broiler chicken production, including transport and slaughter, download our fact sheet (pdf file).
To read about Controlled Atmosphere Killing, click here for PETA’s report.
Read the report Broken Wings by Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals.