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Meat chickens - key welfare issues

We are concerned about the welfare of meat chickens, of particular concern is growth rate, space, lighting and environmental enrichment.


Growth rate

Meat chickens have been genetically selected to grow very quickly. The time from when the birds hatch to reaching slaughter weight can be as little as five weeks. This rapid weight gain can cause severe health problems, such as lameness and heart defects.


We believe that only genetically slower growing breeds should be used, which are less likely to develop these welfare problems.


Space

Not providing chickens with enough space can lead to poor welfare by preventing chickens from moving around and exercising properly. It can also be more difficult to maintain good air and litter (substrate covering the floor) quality when birds are kept in overcrowded conditions.


When overcrowded:

  • problems such as lameness and skin diseases can be much more common.
     
  • it can be difficult for birds to perform many of their natural behaviours.


When the total bird weight within a square metre of floor space is higher than 30 kilogrammes, e.g. 15, 2kg birds, there is an increase in the risk of serious welfare problems developing. Many meat chickens are reared at a total bird weight of 38 kilogrammes per square metre, e.g. 19, 2kg birds.


Environmental enrichment

The majority of chickens don’t have items in their environment that promote the performance of their natural behaviours, such as perching and investigation.


A stimulating, enriched environment (for example, one containing straw bales, perches and objects to peck at) encourages birds to be more active, helping to keep them healthy.

Freedom Food indoor chickens © Freedom Food

Lighting

Chickens only have to be provided with artificial light at a light level of 20 lux. In contrast, a brightly lit room is around 400 lux, and natural daylight is around 30,000 to 100,000 lux.


Chickens have well developed colour vision; it is their main sense and is designed for use in brightly lit conditions. Daylight is required for chickens to use this sense to its full potential.


Find out how you can help improve the lives of meat chickens.