Key Issues in Chicken Farming

Four white chickens sitting on dirty litter.
Image credit – Farmwatch

About chickens bred for meat

Around 120 million chickens are slaughtered every year in New Zealand, and approximately two million die or are culled in the sheds during the six-week rearing process. This makes chickens the most commonly consumed land animal.

Chickens bred for meat, (called ‘broilers’ by the industry), have probably the worst lives of any farmed animal and as the number of individuals involved is so high, this means huge animal suffering.

A white chicken sitting in dirty litter. One of her legs appears collapsed and sticking out abnormally in front of her body.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Bred to suffer

The breeds used commercially in New Zealand have been selectively bred to grow abnormally fast. This causes the chickens significant suffering as their bodies can’t keep up.

An over crowded chicken shed. It is mostly dark but the front near the camera is illuminated. The chickens are white and cover most of the ground, where the ground is visible it is brown. There are red feeding trays and water dispensers that run the length of the shed.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Crammed into chicken sheds

Around 40,000 chickens are crammed into each dimly-lit shed. As they grow, they have less space to move and the air becomes laced with ammonia, as does the litter they lie on. ​

A close up of a purple label that reads “Cage Free | No Added Hormones”

Misleading labelling

Chicken companies use labels on their packaging such as ‘cage free’ and ‘no added hormones’. No chickens are kept in cages or fed hormones, but producers do use antibiotics. These labels are designed to mislead.

One the left, images of chickens in factory farm sheds. On the right the text "Sign the petition now' and a button to 'Take Action'.

Sign the petition now

The torso of a person carrying multiple white feathered chickens, upside down, by their feet, in each hand.

Grabbed at night and crammed into boxes

The methods used when clearing the shed to take birds to the slaughterhouse can cause panic. Birds can suffocate and die. The chickens are crammed into plastic boxes and travel to the slaughterhouse on the back of a truck.

A line of white chickens. They are all hanging upside down from metal shackles that their feet are stuck in. Those that have their faces visible have their eyes open.

Slaughtered in fear

The methods used for chicken slaughter in New Zealand are stressful, they cause fear and can be very painful. The effectiveness of stunning is questionable and there are other methods used overseas that cause less suffering.  ​

A shot of white chickens crowded at the wall of a shed. Barely any ground is visible, and where it is it is brown. There is a small open part of the wall that gives chickens access to the outdoors. Chickens line the whole wall.
Image credit – Farmwatch

Free-range chickens still suffer

There is an increase in so-called ‘free-range’ chicken production. Sadly, life is little better for the chickens in industrial free-range’, as the same fast-growing breeds are used and tens of thousands are birds are in each shed.

A young white chicken pecking at a cob of maize suspended from the shed ceiling. Other chickens are around them.
Image credit – RSPCA UK/RSPCA Assured

Making life better for chickens

Overseas, over 500 companies have committed to making life better for chickens, by providing more space, better living conditions and using slower-growing birds.

The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of much higher standards that make a real difference to the lives of chickens.