About chickens bred for meat

A white chicken standing on top of a straw bale, pecking the straw. She is standing in front of a wooden wall.
Image credit – Jinki Cambronero.

We want to expose the true story of the chickens in the chicken meat industry.

These curious and social creatures are the most farmed animal in the world. At any one time, there are about 23 billion alive on the planet. 

​Chickens raised for meat are called ‘broilers’ by the chicken industry.

The unknown victims of the chicken farming industry

The suffering of chickens bred for meat is largely unknown. Many people don’t even realise they’re slaughtered as overgrown babies at just six weeks old.

Chickens bred for meat are different to hens farmed for their eggs

Two images of rescued chickens. On the left a brown hen standing in a wooden shed. On the right, a white chicken is also standing in a wooden shed. The body of the white chicken is much wider and her legs are thicker, showing the difference between the breed used for egg production (brown hen) and the breed used for meat production (white chicken).
A hen bred to lay eggs (left) and a chicken bred for meat (right) [Image credit – Jinki Cambronero]

Although these two chickens share the same common ancestor (the jungle fowl) they look very different. This is because they have each been genetically selected over many generations specifically for farming. 

This severe genetic selection doesn’t mean these birds have lost their natural behaviours. For example, chickens want space to run and flap their wings. They are very curious, enjoying foraging, pecking at objects and scratching the ground. They naturally dustbathe to keep their skin healthy and like to perch up high, especially at night. So many of these behaviours are denied them in barren factory farm shed with a body designed to grow ‘meat’ not sustain life. 

The brown hens used for eggs in New Zealand are called ‘layers’ by the industry. They are selectively bred to lay the maximum number of eggs. Jungle fowl only lay about 15 eggs a year, but a so-called layer hen will produce an egg almost every day. They are slaughtered at 12 to 18 months old, but the lucky few are rescued and go on to live a longer life as backyard chickens. ​

The white chickens currently used for meat production are of one of two breeds in New Zealand – Cobb and Ross. They have been selected to grow ‘meat’ not sustain life. They are killed at just six weeks of age, but each year approximately two million chickens die (or are culled) even earlier, succumbing to lameness or other debilitating health problems as a result of their breed.

A white chicken stuck on their back on the litter on the floor of a shed. They have no feathers on the underside of their body and the skin is very red.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Fast-grow chickens are bred to suffer

​The chicken breeds used commercially for meat grow explosively fast. The chicks double in size each week until they are slaughtered. Even though they are the size of adult chickens, they are still blue-eyed chicks, that cheep like baby birds.

This explosive growth puts huge pressure on their young bodies. Their muscles and organs can’t keep up with the growth. This leads to many health problems and suffering.

A white chicken with dirty feathers, lying on the dirty floor of a shed. Their left leg is swollen and splayed out to the side.

Take Action – Put an end to NZ chicken cruelty

Chickens bred for meat are bred to suffer.

A white chicken lying on their side on the litter on the floor of a shed. Their legs are splayed out to the side.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Unable to stay upright

Modern-day broiler chickens have been selected to have a large amount of breast tissue (as that is the meat that is most popular with consumers). This can lead to them being so top-heavy that they fall over on their backs and are unable to get back up.

A white chicken sitting on the litter on the floor of a shed. Their beak is open and feathers are missing in one area.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Lameness

Painful lameness is another consequence of rapid growth. A 2013 Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) report found that more than 30% of the chickens on the factory farms surveyed had an obvious abnormality affecting their ability to move.

The pain when they move, strongly contributes to sedentary behaviour. Studies have shown that lame birds prefer food containing pain killers and that lame chickens increase their activity when given pain killers.

Heart/metabolic disease

The explosively fast growth of chickens means that metabolic/heart disease is common, as their heart and other organs cannot keep up. Death from heart disease can be slow and very distressing for the chickens as they struggle to get enough oxygen. 

Over six thousand chickens die every day due to sickness or lameness in chicken farms around New Zealand. This is according to figures from the Poultry Industry of New Zealand (PIANZ).

The MPI 2013 study found the rate of birds found dead, (excluding those culled for lameness etc.), to be 2.65%. In 2021, PIANZ spokesperson Michael Brooks said, “NZ reports a meat chicken mortality of less than 3 per cent across all meat chicken sheds on an annual basis”. That means that millions of birds suffer and die in this way every year. 

Bred to suffer, these are overgrown baby birds that can’t even survive to six weeks old.

A low-resolution image of mature white chickens in a shed, that is semi-partioned off with boards across the shed. There are what looks like some roosters in with lots of females and they don't have much space. Red feed hoppers line the shed.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Breeder/parent birds

Breeder birds are kept to produce the millions of day-old chicks that get shipped to chicken farms all across the country. These parent birds suffer even more than their chicks.

These parent birds are, of course, the same breed as their chicks who grow explosively fast to usually be killed at only six weeks. Even at only six weeks, the chicks suffer many health problems. The breeder birds, by comparison, are kept alive for about 18 months before being slaughtered., 

For the parent birds to survive to reach sexual maturity to mate and lay eggs, the chicken producers have to try to slow down their growth rate. They do this by restricting their feed. This means the parent birds are constantly hungry.  

​Breeder birds are kept in sheds with the males and females all in together. The roosters are known to repeatedly force themselves on the hens, who cannot get away and hide. Injuries are common.

A white chicken pecking a corn husk
Image credit – RSCPA UK: RSPCA Assured

How we can help chickens

The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of international standards that are designed to make life better for chickens.

Overseas companies are committed to sourcing all their chicken meat from farmers that use slower-growing healthier chickens and farms with better living conditions.