Farming meat chickens

Meat chickens can be reared in several different types of production system

Production systems

Indoor reared

Meat chickens reared to industry standards © Andrew Forsyth/RPSCA Photolibrary

Most meat chickens are reared in large, closed, buildings, where temperature, artificial lighting, ventilation, food and water are carefully controlled.

Food and water are provided in lines along the length of the building and wood shavings cover the floor.

Typically, around 25,000 birds are housed together within a building, but some can house around 50,000 birds. There can be several buildings on a farm.

Most birds are reared at a stocking density (amount of space provided per bird) of 38kg per square metre, which is around 19 two kilogramme birds for each square metre of floor space.

Light levels can be kept low to encourage the birds to eat more and move around less, which maximises their growth rate.

Improved indoor reared

A smaller proportion of meat chickens are reared in indoor systems in conditions that improve their welfare. These systems are similar to those described above, but include improvements, such as:

  • the provision of natural daylight through windows
  • reduced stocking densities
  • environmental enrichment such as straw bales for the birds to peck at.

In addition, slower growing breeds of chicken may be used.

Free-range and organic  

Free-range meat chickens © Andrew Forsyth/RSPCA Photolibrary

Meat chickens may be reared in systems that allow them access to an additional outdoor range area for part of their lives.

The chickens are able to access the range area though 'popholes' in the side of the building.

The law requires free-range and organic systems to meet certain requirements, for example, relating to space within the building and the age of the birds at slaughter.

End of rearing

It usually takes five to six weeks for the birds to reach the desired weight for slaughter of around 2.2 kilogrammes. They are then caught, placed into crates and transported to the abattoir.

Number of meat chickens

Over 1 billion meat chickens (broilers) were slaughtered in the UK in 2017¹.

¹FAOSTATS. (2019) Production: Livestock primary [online]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Statistics Division.

Find out about some of the key welfare issues for meat chickens.

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