Chickens are perhaps the most abused animals on the planet. Every year billions upon billions of these intelligent, social birds are killed for food worldwide, and countless more are locked in tiny cages and are denied the freedom to express even their most simple needs.
“It is now clear that [chickens] have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”
—Dr Lesley Rogers, professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England.
Chickens are actually not the bird brains many people think they are. They can recognise over 100 individuals’ faces, learn from watching each other and worry about the future. They also have over 30 distinct calls, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is travelling by land or air.
Chickens are highly social animals and spend much of their time in the company of friends pecking and scratching for food. Their beaks are highly sensitive to help them find food. They also enjoy cleaning themselves with a dust bath and lying in the sun.In nature, a mother hen will build a private nest to lay her eggs, and will even go without food or water if it means she can have a private nest to protect her babies. Even before they hatch a mother hen will cluck to her chicks, and from inside their egg they cluck in response. Once hatched, she teaches her chicks what is safe to eat and what to avoid.
[C]ontrary to what one may hear from the industry, chickens are ... complex behaviorally, do quite well in learning, show a rich social organization, and have a diverse repertoire of calls. Anyone who has kept barnyard chickens recognizes their significant differences in personality.
Roughly half a billion chickens are killed for their flesh in Australia every year. The majority are crammed into overcrowded sheds, where they are unable to express the simplest of natural behaviours.
At the slaughterhouse, birds are shackled upside down by their legs, are electrically stunned, have their throat slit by a motorised blade and then pass through a chamber full of jets of boiling water to remove their feathers. Some unlucky birds may not get properly stunned and on occasions may face the motorised blade and even the scolding chamber fully conscious.
Is the taste of flesh really worth all this suffering and death? Imagine if they were dogs or cats in these conditions. How would that make you feel? Do our feathery friends a favour. Give meat the flick, because wings are for flying, not frying!
Eggs aren’t really all they're cracked up to be either. In fact, the egg industry is a life sentence for hens and a death sentence for male chicks in hatcheries.
In Australia, around 12 million hens are locked in tiny wire cages (called battery cages) with up to 5 other birds. Meanwhile ‘barn laid’ laying hens are forced to live in windowless sheds with tens of thousands of other birds.
On battery farms, ‘barn laid’ farms, and even some ‘free-range’ farms birds have the tips of their beaks cut off with a hot blade. This painful mutilation is done without pain relief.
No matter what the egg system, at about 18 months of age, hens slow in their egg production. These ‘spent hens’ are no longer seen as profitable and are roughly removed, transported and killed, to be replaced by 4 month old hens, who in 14 months will face the same fate.
At hatcheries, where egg laying hens are bred, the male chicks are not 'profitable'. Their very short lives end almost as soon as they begin, when they are gassed or ground up alive (called a macerator).
To make things worse, pellets fed to chickens often contain meat. So the shredded remains of male chicks may even be fed to their sisters and mothers. Sound like something out of a horror movie?
While organic and free-range egg systems provide birds with more space, and no organic farmers debeak, the fact remains all egg systems end up killing animals. ‘Spent hens’ and male chicks are the overlooked victims of a profit driven egg industry.
You can help make chickens as ‘free as a bird’. It’s easy—simply don’t eat eggs. Not only is this an eggcelent way to help chickens, you’ll be setting a great eggsample for others. Besides, there’s no eggscuse for animal cruelty!*
*Apologies for the eggcessive use of puns.
Next: The Truth about Cows »
Factory farms pack tens of thousands of birds into overcrowded sheds. These birds are denied sunlight, fresh air or access to the outside.
The floors of broiler sheds are not cleaned for the entire time chicks live there. The stench of ammonia is overbearing, causing respiratory and eye problems. If a bird lays too long on the damp faeces covered floor she can suffer severe chemical burns to her skin.
Chicks on factory farms are bred to grow much faster than their bodies can cope. Around 20 million chickens die in sheds every year—from illness, from being trampled to death or from starvation and thirst as they are unable to lift their own unnatural body weight to reach food and water.
‘Catchers’, who load up to 500 birds onto trucks per hour, grab birds by their fragile limbs. Hanging painfully by one leg with up to four other birds, chickens are forcibly crammed into tiny crates. One third of birds has an untreated broken bone by the time they're killed.
At the slaughterhouse, she is electrically stunned and her throat is slit by a motorised blade. If she had her head lifted and missed the ‘stunning bath’ then she may have her throat slit whilst fully conscious.
After having her throat slit, she passes through a chamber of scolding hot jets of water to remove her feathers. If she is unfortunate enough to lift her head and miss the ‘stunning bath’ and throat cutter, she may be scalded alive in the defeathering chamber.
Chickens naturally can live up to 12 years. Yet egg laying chickens are usually killed before 2 years of age (when they cease to turn a profit), and chicks raised for their flesh are killed at just 6 weeks of age.
Male chicks have no economic value to the egg industry. At hatcheries, a male chick’s only glimpse of the world is as he is being gassed to death, or ground up alive (in a macerator).
To prevent birds turning to cannibalism and mutilating each other in frustration, farmers (including some free-range farmers) cut the tips of the birds’ beaks off. This is done without pain relief and can cause ongoing pain.
Battery hens live in a space smaller than an A4 piece of paper. They cannot even stretch their wings. It takes a battery hen roughly 30 miserable hours in this tiny space to produce just one egg.
Weaker battery hens may die, unnoticed, trampled by their cage mates, and rotting in their cage.
In overcrowded ‘barn laid’ egg sheds, egg laying hens live a miserable life of suffering, with no grass, no fresh air and no freedom.
Mother hens are very protective of their chicks. She will build a private nest for her family and go to great lengths to protect her chicks.
Chickens are social birds that spend most of their time pecking and scratching with friends.
Anyone who has spent time with chickens will know that they are all individuals with their own personalities.
Chickens clean themselves by rolling in the dust. This kills germs and gets rid of the grease on their feathers.
Chickens love to lie in the sun and soak of the warm rays. But then, who doesn’t?
Chickens are intelligent animals. They can even understand that an object continues to exist even if it is taken out of view. This is beyond the capacity of dogs and even small children.
Animal cruelty sucks—but you don’t have to put up with it!
It’s in your power to break the killing cycle. Here’s how: