Battery Cages and Grower Houses
Some factory farms unnaturally confine and genetically manipulate various species of domesticated fowl to meet consumer demand for cheap meat and eggs. Efforts are underway in various states to stop the most egregious practices, but the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens and grower houses for meat chickens remains widespread, as do inhumane methods of slaughter.
Although birds represent about 95% of the nearly 9 billion animals slaughtered for food each year in the United States, they are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978. As a result, live chickens and turkeys can be violently shackled, hung upside down and forced to spend the last moments of their lives being moved along a line towards a device that slits their throats.
Because the killing line moves quickly, some birds are improperly shackled and miss the automated blade intended to cut their throat before being dumped into scalding water.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, over 800,000 chickens (and turkeys) are boiled alive each year. Amazingly, none of that abuse is illegal.
"If you torture a single chicken and are caught, you're likely to be arrested," wrote Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. "If you scald thousands of chickens alive, you're an industrialist who will be lauded for your acumen."
Meat (Broiler) Chickens
Nearly all of the roughly 8.5 billion chickens bred for meat in the United States each year are raised on factory farms. These birds, a hybrid of egg-laying chickens, are often confined in mega-sized sheds called grower houses, where 20,000 or more birds struggle for limited space — approximately 130 square inches per bird — on an unnatural “litter” floor covered with feces. The decaying waste emits ammonia, which irritates the birds’ eyes, throat, and skin.
Michael Specter, a longtime writer for The New Yorker, visited one such shed in 2003.
“I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia," Specter wrote. "My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe .... There must have been 30,000 chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.”
Due to lack of exercise and over-feeding, so-called broiler chickens grow unnaturally large. So large, in fact, that the journal Poultry Science calculated that a human growing at a similar rate would weigh 660 pounds by the age of eight weeks. The chickens' skeletons and vital organs cannot accommodate the added weight, causing them severe physical and emotional distress.
Although chickens have a natural life span of up to 10 years, those raised for meat on factory farms typically are killed within two months.
Many of the 300 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. still spend virtually their entire lives in “battery cages,” a massive system of interlocking wire structures that provide each bird with less space than an 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper.
Up to 10 egg-laying hens may be confined to each cage, which typically measures about 18 inches by 20 inches, or roughly the size of a file drawer. Though "living" conditions may be somewhat better for so-called free-range hens, the reality is often much less than the comforting term implies. (See FAQ page.)
Because the unnatural confinement leads to fighting, factory farm operators burn or slice off a portion of each bird’s beak with a hot blade. This cruel process, known as “debeaking,” is normally performed without painkillers.
Hens are bred to produce an unnaturally large quantity of eggs, causing calcium deficiencies that lead to painful fractures. When egg production inevitably declines with age, some farms reportedly still withhold food to shock the bird’s system into one last egg-laying cycle, a process known as “forced molting.”
Unproductive hens are slaughtered or simply left to die slowly without veterinary care, their remains used as food scraps.
"Anyone who has studied the social life of birds carefully will know that theirs is a subtle and complex world, where food and water are only a small part of their behavioral needs," wrote Dr. Desmond Morris, a zoologist, author, and animal behaviorist. "The brain of each bird is programmed with a complicated set of drives and responses that set it on the path to a life full of special territorial, nesting, roosting, grooming, parental, aggressive, and sexual activities in addition to the simple feeding behavior. All these are denied the battery hens."
Male counterparts of battery hens are afforded equally inhumane treatment. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “There is no market for the male chicks, and they are the wrong breed to raise for meat — so shortly after they hatch, they are killed by grinding, gassing, crushing, or suffocation.”
Hard to believe? Please view this undercover video from Mercy for Animals: