|By Karen Davis, PhD, President |
"It should be realized that even vastly improved intensive systems are
unlikely to meet the cognitive demands of the hitherto underestimated
-- Dr. Lesley J. Rogers, The Development of Brain and Behaviour
in the Chicken , p. 213.
The belief that factory-farmed chickens, turkeys and ducks have lost
their natural behaviors and are content to live in crowded and unstimulating
environments is contradicted by contemporary avian science and by the
variety of natural behaviors displayed by these birds at farmed animal
sanctuaries. Chickens rescued from battery-cages sunbathe, dustbathe,
forage, perch, run about the yard, and socialize in small groups. Hens
scratch out nests in the straw in which to lay their eggs and "fuss" over
their eggs in secluded corners of their house and yard.
Turkeys and chickens who have been bred for meat show normal patterns
of behavior when they are young; as they get older they become more sedentary
due to overly heavy breast muscle tissue, painful lameness in their hip
joints (Danbury; Duncan), and metabolic disorders that affect the capacity
of their hearts and lungs to function normally and that can lead to heart
attacks at an early age. Ducks bred for meat and foie gras production
are likewise burdened by overweight (ducks raised for foie gras are force
fed huge amounts of food by having metal pipes rammed down their throats
three times a day for a month before they are killed), and by health
problems resulting from the lack of water that waterfowl need (Ducks & Geese).
Provided with water, ducks from factory farms spend a large part of each
day swimming, getting in and out of the water, and rinsing their eyes.
Frequent eye-rinsing is necessary to keep ducks' eyes healthy and to
prevent opthalmia, or "sticky eye" - a disease that is "most prevalent
among ducklings that are raised indoors" (Holderread, 130-131).
Following is a brief overview of welfare issues and improvements affecting
1) hens kept in cages for egg production; 2) birds bred for meat production;
3) parent flocks of birds bred for meat production.
Hens Kept in Cages for Egg Production (UPC Public Comments, 21-26)
Caged hens are deprived of an environment suited to their nature as
foraging animals with wings, legs, horny toes for scratching the earth,
full-spectrum color vision, and other evolved characteristics that distinguish
them as groundnesting birds with well-defined, scientifically characterized
patterns of interest, behavior and activity. Caged hens are unable to
forage (to peck and scratch at the earth with their claws and beaks),
to dustbathe, to sunbathe, to perch, to stretch their wings, to walk
or to run. Even on wire floors, their need to dustbathe is so strong
that hens will go through the motions of dustbathing, which for chickens
and turkeys is the hygienic equivalent of a waterbath or shower for humans.
If hens are given access to litter material (earth, straw, peat, or sand), "They
do it over and over again" (Turner, 35-36).
Biologist Marian Stamp Dawkins explains that "[I]f hens that have been
kept all their lives on wire floors with no sight or contact with anything
that could be scratched or raked over are suddenly, at the age of 4 months,
given access to a floor of wood-shavings or peat, even these naïve
hens have an immediate and strong preference for these more natural floors
over the wire ones, which is all they have known until then. They dustbathe,
eat particles of peat and scratch with their feet. It is not just the
extra comfort afforded by a soft floor that attracts them but all the
behaviour they can do there as well" (Dawkins, 153).
Exploratory and foraging behavior is important to chickens and turkeys.
The birds use their beaks like a sensitive hand to explore and manipulate
objects as well as to find food and eat (Rogers, 95). Chickens search
for food by scratching with their claws and pecking vigorously at the
ground. They "work" an area, constantly moving about, turning over leaves
and raking up the earth looking for seeds, insects and other edibles,
including the small stones they ingest to grind up the food in their
gizzard, a process that, for them, is "teeth."
According to scientists, "Pecking is a precise, high-tech activity," requiring
good coordination with the eye. In natural conditions chickens spend
between half and 90% of their time foraging, making up to 15,000 pecks
a day (Turner, 22-23). Feather-pecking and "cannibalism" occur in environments
that frustrate the behavioral needs of foraging birds. In cages, "feather
pecking occurs particularly in the afternoon when hens have finished
feeding and laying eggs, and have little else to do" (Nicol & Dawkins,
Instead of burning off a portion of the beak (and duck's bill), which
is filled with sensitive nerves to the very tip, as is now done by the
egg industry, the turkey industry, the duck industry, and producers of
male birds used for breeding (Davis 1996, 65-72; UPC Public Comments,
36-41), "poultry farmers should provide pecking materials not only because
hens [all of these birds] need to peck but because the consequences of
deprivation may be fatal" (Nicol & Dawkins, 50). Currently, the US
Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service is attempting
to breed hens who peck less while investigating various housing alternatives
for laying hens including cages with perches, nest boxes, and sand-bathing
boxes (Scientists, 4). This so-called enriched cage, while containing
a few token improvements, is too small, crowded and cluttered for the
birds to move normally and to exercise. Cages for hens, sheds filled
with cages like factory warehouses filled with shoeboxes, should be eliminated.
Chicken specialist Lesley J. Rogers describes the suffering of hens
kept in cages, be they barren or "enriched" cages, in her book The
Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken .
Chickens in battery cages are cramped in overcrowded conditions. Apart
from restricted movement, they have few or no opportunities for decisionmaking
and control over their own lives. They have no opportunity to search
for food and, if they are fed on powdered food, they have no opportunity
to decide at which grains to peck. These are just some examples of the
impoverishment of their environment. Others include abnormal levels of
sensory or social stimulation caused by excessive tactile contact with
cage mates and continuous auditory stimulation produced by the vocalizing
of huge flocks housed in the same shed. Also, they have no access to
dustbathing or nesting material.
Chickens experiencing such environmental conditions attempt to find
ways to cope with them. Their behavioural repertoire becomes directed
towards self or cage mates and takes on abnormal patterns, such as feather
pecking or other stereotyped behaviours. These behaviours are used as
indicators of stress in caged animals. (Rogers, 219)
If hens are going to be kept for eggs, they should be kept in roomy,
well-ventilated enclosures with easy outdoor access to a true "range" environment
where they can perform most if not all of the natural behaviors that
interest and define them as chickens. Dr. Lesley Rogers, a specialist
in chicken cognitive behavior, writes: "I would argue that genetic selection
has favoured chickens that can live in farmyard free-ranging conditions
in contact with humans and other species, but not in battery cages" (219).
Birds Bred for Meat Production (UPC Public Comments, 26-30, 32)
Selective breeding for fast growth and heavy breasts has resulted in
painful lameness and heart disease in birds bred for meat (Gentle, 1992;
Danbury et al., 2000; Turner et al. Davis 1996, Ch. 4). The birds grow
so fast - at 6 weeks old birds who would normally weigh a pound weighs
over 5 pounds - that their skeletal system isn't strong enough to support
their body weight, and their hearts and lungs are overstressed in trying
to supply the excessive demand for oxygenated blood to the peripheral
body tissues. High mortality in young "broiler" chickens and turkey poults
is a constant theme of the poultry industry (Veterinary Meeting; Birds
Chickens bred for meat are kept in sheds so crowded, with 20,000 or
more birds, that by the time they are a month old, they can hardly move.
The manure-filled floor litter (sawdust or pine shavings mixed with the
birds' droppings) causes painful breast and hock joint sores, and toxic
air pollution. The feces-saturated litter, on which the birds sit and
stand continuously, favors the growth and multiplication of pathogens - disease
organisms such as Salmonella enteritidis and Campylobacter
jejuni ; and the decomposition of uric acid (nitrogen) in the droppings
of thousands of birds crowded together fills the sheds with excretory
ammonia fumes that burn the birds' eyes and respiratory tracts, enter
their bloodstream, and depress their immune systems, reducing or eliminating
their ability to resist the inflow of disease organisms (Davis 1996,
97-98; UPC Public Comments, 20-21).
In the increasingly used "solid-wall" and "tunnel ventilation" poultry
sheds, airflow is automated and the houses are frequently constructed
so as to exclude all natural sunlight. The walls are solid and the birds
have only the dimmest of light, to allow them to eat and drink. As a
result of the genetics, the low-grade feed intended only to bulk up the
birds' weight quickly and cheaply and that includes the bovine nervous
tissue that harbors mad-cow disease prions (Davis, 2003), and the dark
unwholesome housing, "Birds at 5 weeks old can hardly stand because their
legs are so weak and with no natural light or exercise their joints are
too soft to carry the weight" (Forsberg cited in UPC Public Comments,
The dimly lighted interior of the sheds reduces the movement of the
birds around the house to getting up to eat and drink, then sitting down
again. Opening the doors, farmers say it is difficult for them to see
the birds and that sudden light or a flashlight frightens the birds into
piling up, causing injuries and suffocation. Power outages and mechanical
failures can, and do, kill off entire houses of birds (Clouse cited in
UPC Public Comments, 27).
Parent Flocks of Birds Bred for Meat Production (UPC Public Comments,
Parent flocks - the "breeders" of chickens, turkeys, and ducks - embody
the complex maladies of fast rapid growth including mating disabilities.
They suffer from malfunctioning ovaries, breathing difficulties, fertility
problems, weak hearts, and more. To compensate, companies raise the birds
in semi-darkness, in "blackout houses," and keep them on semi-starvation
rations designed to control their weight and restrict their food intake
by withholding a whole day's ration every other day. When food is restored,
chickens rush to the feeders, often injuring their feet and other parts
of their bodies in their desperation to eat. Bacteria invade the tissues
and bloodstream following these injuries to the skin, especially of the
feet, which are already embedded and incrusted with feces-caked litter
Food-restricted birds gorge themselves when the troughs are refilled.
On days when food is withheld, the birds peck at spots on the floor,
and to relieve their hunger they drink more water, which is also restricted
because of the added mess it makes. Increased aggression in male birds
towards female birds in chicken breeding flocks leads to hens being badly
injured, fearful, and even killed by the males (Duncan; Mench 2002).
Male and female turkeys are raised in separate sheds, where they are "milked" of
their semen and artificially inseminated by teams of men who wrestle
the birds to the ground to manipulate their genitals (Davis, 2001, 84-85,
Forced rapid growth of birds bred for meat should be prohibited, as
should raising the birds in filth and darkness as is currently done.
Force feeding of chickens, turkeys and ducks, and food deprivation (forced
molting) of hens used for egg production and "meat-type" breeding flocks
of chickens, turkeys, and ducks, should be prohibited (UPC Public Comments,
5-18). Birds raised for meat and hens used for egg production suffer
from a lack of sensory and mental stimulation, physical activity, and
bodily comfort. Reducing animals to mere "behaving organisms" and "productive
units" is not animal welfare. That a profitable number of birds out of
tens of millions can survive to the young age of five weeks to a year
or two does not prove welfare, as the poultry and egg industries would
have us believe.
Millions of birds die before slaughter, and of the nine billion plus
birds who live long enough to be slaughtered each year in the United
States, millions are diseased, injured, and half dead (moribund) of undiagnosed
causes by the time they reach the slaughterhouse. Birds raised for food
never get pain relievers. Individuals, as such, are never considered.
Poultry welfare specialist Joy Mench explains the fallacy of using mass
productivity of animals as an indicator of individual animal welfare:
It is now generally agreed that good productivity and health are not
necessarily indicators of good welfare. In large part, this is due to
the way in which these measures are defined and manipulated within the
commercial productive environment. Although stress is known to result
in suppression of growth and reproduction as well as in decreased immunocompetence,
these effects occur at the level of the individual animals. Productivity,
however, is often measured at the level of the unit (e.g. number of eggs
or egg mass per hen-housed), and individual animals may be in a comparatively
poor state of welfare even though productivity within the unit is high.
Additionally, health and productivity may be maintained or enhanced
through genetic and environmental manipulations which do not necessarily
improve the welfare of the individual. Broilers [birds bred for meat],
for example, have been bred for a high rate of growth, which may also
be associated with physical disability and skeletal weakness. The movement
restriction imposed by these disabilities and by crowding further enhances
growth rate, as does the administration of subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics.
In this case, productive performance has been enhanced at the expense
of health and by limiting the behavior and movement patterns of the animal
(Mench 1992, 108-109).
Birds Exploited for Meat:
Clouse, M.A. A Primer on Tunnel Ventilated Poultry Houses, June 20,
2003. Cited in UPC Public Comments.
Danbury, T.C., et al. 2000. Self-selection of the analgesic drug carprofen
by lame broiler chickens, Veterinary Record 146: 307-311.
Davis, K. Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the
Modern Poultry Industry . Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company,
Davis, K. More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual,
and Reality . NY: Lantern Books, 2001.
Davis, K. Assume No Animal Products Are Safe, Jan. 14, 2004:
Dawkins, M.S. Through Their Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness .
NY: W.H. Freeman, 1993.
Ducks & Geese: http://upc-online.org/ducks
Duncan, I.J.H. 2001. Animal Welfare Issues in the Poultry Industry:
Is There a Lesson to Be Learned? Journal of Applied Animal Welfare
Science 4.3: 207-221.
Forsberg, V. Email to UPC, March 31, 2003. Cited in UPC Public Comments.
Gentle, M.J. Pain in birds. 1992. Animal Welfare 1:235-247.
Harrison, R. The myth of the barn egg, New Scientist , Nov.
30, 1991, 40-43.
Holderread, D. Raising the Home Duck Flock: A Complete Guide .
Pownal, VT: Garden Way Publishing/Storey Communications, 1992.
Mench, J.A. 1992. The Welfare of Poultry in Modern Production Systems. Poultry
Science Review 4: 107-128.
Mench, J.A. Broiler breeders: feed restriction and welfare. World's
Poultry Science Journal 58.1: 23-29.
Nicol, C. and M.S. Dawkins. Homes fit for hens. New Scientist ,
March 17, 1990, 46-51.
Rogers, Lesley J. The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the
Chicken . UK: Cab International, 1995.
Scientists Using Group Selection for Cage Layers, Egg Industry Jan.
Turner, J. Stop-Look-Listen: Recognising the Sentience of Farm Animals .
Compassion in World Farming Trust, 2003. www.ciwf.co.uk .
Available from United Poultry Concerns.
Turner, J. et al. The Welfare of Broiler Chickens in the European
Union . Compassion in World Farming Trust, 2003. www.ciwf.co.uk .
UPC Public Comments to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture
Regarding: Humane Treatment of Domestic Livestock , June 27, 2003:
Veterinary Meeting Looks at Poultry Health, Poultry Times ,
Oct. 27, 2003.
Further Reading Online
The Experimental Use of Chickens and Other Birds in Biomedical and Agricultural
The Plight of Birds in the Poultry and Egg Industry:
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that addresses the
treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment,
and human companionship situations and promotes the compassionate and
respectful treatment of domestic fowl. www.upc-online.org
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150