Over 9 billion chickens are raised for meat annually in the United States.
Industrial meat chicken farms confine birds inside massive, windowless sheds. They are packed tightly together with as little as 100 square inches of space, in accordance with National Chicken Council guidelines. (The birds would need 138 square inches to spread just one wing.) Industrial farms may house 20,000 birds in one building. This extreme overcrowding prevents chickens from performing natural behaviors such as pecking, preening, or even walking around without stepping on other birds.
High levels of ammonia in the litter contribute to extremely poor air quality and painful irritations to the chickens’ feet. Lighting is intentionally kept low to minimize aggression and activity, so birds gain weight more rapidly. An especially serious welfare problems is that the birds are genetically selected to grow at such an abnormally fast rate that their bodies cannot keep up. Their bones break and organs rupture as chickens reach market weight in just six or seven weeks. Some die of heart failure before that.
High-welfare, pasture-based farms represent a dramatic improvement in the welfare of chickens raised for meat. Farmers certified by the Animal Welfare Approved program raise chickens who mature at a normal rate, in modest-sized flocks. Birds on pasture can run, fly, stretch and flap their wings, and have access to forage, dust baths, fresh air and sunlight.