Food Sourcing: Backyard Chickens

Modern Commercial Poultry Farming: The Grim Reality

We’ve all seen the commercials: a happy family gathers together in a sunny kitchen to enjoy a fresh-baked  chicken dinner. The scene is idyllic. The smiles, laughter, and perfect place settings create the impression that the companies behind these ads care about general well-being and happiness. But as many secretly- filmed documentaries have shown, the horrors experienced by the birds who end up on our dinner tables are almost unimaginable. Modern commercial poultry farming doesn’t look very modern. It looks barbaric. And it bears little resemblance to farming.

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Birds who are hatched at modern commercial poultry farms begin their lives on a conveyor belt. Once they’ve been removed from their shells, the horrors begin. Newly hatched males are hand picked from the conveyor belt and tossed alive into grinding machines. Because birds are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act, this practice is as legal as it is unethical. Hundreds of thousands of chicks meet this atrocious fate every day. For the females, their ultimate fate depends on whether they’re being hatched as broilers or laying hens. Both types are taken to environments where they live in impossibly crowded conditions and are deprived of ordinary pleasures of existence like sunlight and fresh air. The specifics of their traumatizing lives, however, vary by their intended use.

Broilers, chickens being raised for meat, are stuffed by the tens of thousands into warehouses. The chicks are given artificial growth hormones that cause their bodies’ development to outpace the growth of their legs, and as a result, they are often unable to walk or move by the time they’re only months old. Many chicks get no sleep because lights are kept on constantly to stimulate unnatural eating patterns that facilitate faster growth. Nothing about their lives are normal or natural.
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Laying hens experience different, but equally horrifying, treatment.  They’re jammed into cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. Their beaks are burned so they won’t peck at themselves out of frustration. This debeaking often results in severe, chronic pain for the animals. Many are also subject to a practice called “force molting” which involves starving the birds—sometimes not feeding them for up to two weeks—in order to shock their bodies into another egg laying cycle. Once egg production drops, they are immediately shipped off to be slaughtered.

Since the 1990’s, many undercover investigators have secretly filmed the grim and horrifying conditions in these commercial chicken farms. Because the films negatively affect sales, the meat industry has fought to make it a crime to secretly operate cameras in their facilities. These laws, designed to silence whistle-blowers, are referred“ag-gag” laws. But it’s largely because of those earlier films that the public has become aware of the terrible conditions in which commercially “farmed” chickens live and the inhumane means by which they die. So next time you see one of those commercials on TV, don’t be fooled by the happy family propaganda. Behind the scenes is a horrifying reality that those companies don’t want you to know about.

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