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Farming meat chickens

Over a billion meat chickens (broilers) were slaughtered in the UK in 2020¹. Meat chickens can be reared in several different production systems. Here's more about how they're reared for meat in the UK.

side close-up of broiler chickens sitting inside © RSPCA

Chicken meat production systems

Indoor reared

Most meat chickens are reared in large closed buildings, where temperature, artificial lighting, ventilation, food and water are carefully controlled. They're given food and water 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 as many as 50,000 birds. There can be several buildings on a farm.

Most birds are reared at a stocking density (amount of space 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 are similar to those described above, but include improvements such as:  

  • Natural daylight through the windows      
  • Fewer birds per square metre
  • Environmental enrichment, such as straw bales for the birds to peck at.      

What's more, this system may use slower growing breeds of chicken.

Free-range and organic

Meat chickens can also be reared in systems where they can access an additional outdoor area for part of their lives. The chickens can access this area through 'popholes' in the side of the building.

The law requires free-range and organic systems to meet certain requirements, such as the amount of space in 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, which is around 2.2kg. They're then caught, put into crates and transported to the abattoir.

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

¹FAOSTATS. (2020) Production: Livestock primary [online]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Statistics Division.

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