P.O. Box 6050
Mission Viejo, California 92690
What I had intended to accompany this letter would have been $23.97 for a years [sic] subscription to WILDBIRD. However, after seeing an advertisement by a group called United Poultry Concerns of Potomac, Maryland in your October 1994 issue, page #52, there is no way I would ever subscribe to a magazine that condones such wild misrepresentation of facts as does United Poultry Concerns.
In their advertisement, published in your magazine, they say: "Every year millions of chickens are cruelly debeaked, and starved in their cages for as long as two weeks." This is positively the most absurd statement I have ever read by any extremist group. What you have here is a case of people "defending" what they know very little, if anything, about. Debeaking, incidently, does not mean removal of the entire mandibles (beak) of a chicken. Only the very ends of the beaks are removed, which has a similar makeup to human toenail or fingernail, and little, if any, bleeding is encountered during this procedure. It should be pointed out also, the chicken beak regenerates, just as does the human fingernail. This procedure merely blunts the end of the beak, the chickens can continue to eat and drink immediately with no ill side effects. Nowhere in their advertisement does United Poultry Concerns mention the horrible consequences in commercial applications if chickens are not debeaked. Why are they debeaked? Because chickens, even when fed high quality rations and maintained in the peak of health can become cannibals! The first pecking generally starts around the vent area of the pitiful victim. Within a matter of minutes, the victim is being eaten alive, up through the vent, into the intestines and other vital organs. Death is inevitable, but a slow and agonizing process. This process is repeated until the entire flock is now eating each other alive! A horrible end to an entire flock which could have easily been prevented by a simple and painless operation. Since debeaking is almost exclusively done in commercial applications of thousands of birds, why in the world would they starve their birds for two weeks? The entire purpose of a commercial growing operation is to keep their birds healthy in order that they will be able to produce high quality eggs and meat for the consumer market.
I am directing my employees to not subscribe to your magazine, I am requesting my friends and family not to subscribe to your magazine. Further, I am forwarding copies of this letter to every commercial poultry grower/breeder in the United States. I will personally mail copies of this letter to every poultry feed and supply outlet in the United States at my expense to be displayed as they deem appropriate.
P.O. Box 466
Astatula, Florida 34705-0466
P.S. I am not associated in any form or fashion with any commercial poultry association, nor do I have a commercial poultry endeavor.
P.O. Box 466
Astatula, Florida 34705-0466
Dear Mr. Gibson:
WildBird Magazine faxed to me on December 16, 1994, a copy of your letter addressed to them dated October 25, 1994, in which you asserted that an advertisement by United Poultry Concerns appearing in WildBird comprised a "wild misrepresentation of facts." My letter to you and to WildBird is a response to this charge.
The advertisement in question contains six statements including one question. Upon restating these in the sequence in which they appear in the ad, I will proceed to address each one separately in that order. The ad states as follows:
1. The call of the wild is in his heart, too.
2. Despite thousands of years of domestication, chickens are essentially unchanged from their wild relative, the Southeast Asian Jungle Fowl.
3. Did you know that chickens communicate with each other and their mothers from inside the egg?
4. Every year millions of chickens are cruelly debeaked, and starved in their cages for as long as two weeks.
5. To date, there are no federal welfare laws protecting poultry in the U.S.
6. Their life is in your hands.
1. The call of the wild is in his heart, too. United Poultry Concerns chose to advertise in WildBird because the mission of the magazine was described to me in a letter dated November 18, 1993, by Leigh Hunt, National Sales Representative, WildBird, as "to share with readers the immense pleasure that is to be found in communicating with the feathered inhabitants of our planet." By advertising in WildBird, we sought to reach out to the vast and growing number of people who already appreciate, care about, and love birds and to extend awareness of the fact that chickens are feathered inhabitants of our planet, too. We sought to create an opportunity to show interested readers that there is an extensive literature, going back to antiquity, attesting to the sociability, intelligence, and parental solicitude of chickens and to the fact that many human beings throughout the world have loved and respected chickens.
The caption is an allusion to the American writer Jack London's 1903 novel, The Call of the Wild. It proclaims the fact, which is summarized in Laying Hens: A report of the poultry working group of the Swiss Society for the Protection of Animals (1994), that "Neither thousands of years of domestication nor the recent extreme selective breeding for productivity have [sic] fundamentally altered the behaviour of chickens. The frequently expressed view that the brooding instinct has been bred out of present-day hybrid birds has been proved wrong. Hens repeatedly become broody even under intensive production conditions. . . . There are hardly any differences between our domestic chickens and their ancestral form, the jungle fowl. It is quite possible to let them run together in a flock. . . . [E]ven artificially incubated hybrid chickens can successfully revert to the wild state and reproduce in nature, as studies by the University of Edinburgh have shown. Jungle fowls and feral domestic chickens generally live in small groups. Each group comprises a dominant cock, one or more hens, and immature birds. . . . In nature and in husbandry systems adapted to their behavioural needs, fowls form a strong social structure. Although they are capable of distinguishing 80 or more members of their own species, they prefer to live in small groups" (p. 11).
Laying Hens, which is a scientifically-documented report, describes the primary behavior of wild and feral domestic chickens under the following headings in these words: Fowls spend most of the day foraging for food. Chickens peck and scratch. Chickens frequently take sun baths. Fowls take regular dust baths to keep their feathers in condition. Fowls sleep in elevated places. Hens make their nests in sheltered places.
Modern poultry scientists have acknowledged the essentially "wild" nature of domestic fowl. Joy A. Mench, 1992. Introduction: Applied Ethology and Poultry Science. Poultry Science 71:631-633, says for example, "[I]t should be borne in mind that although artificial selection does modulate behavior it rarely alters it fundamentally. . . . For example, the repertoire of behaviors in most modern poultry strains is virtually identical to that of their putative wild ancestor, the Burmese Junglefowl" (Kruijt, 1964), p. 632; and J[ames] V. Craig, 1992. Measuring social behavior in poultry. Poultry Science 71:650-657 states, "Comparisons of observations from such studies [of jungle fowl allowed to roam freely within the confines of a zoo and observations of feral fowl in relatively undisturbed settings] with those of domesticated fowl in human-controlled environments indicate that the behavioral repertoire seen in wild and feral relatives in unconfined environments has been largely preserved in domesticated chickens" (p. 651).
Paul B. Siegel summarizes in (1993) Behavior-genetic analyses and poultry husbandry, Poultry Science 72: 1-6, that while some of the changes produced in chickens by humans "may appear large, the process in an evolutionary context is minor because domestic poultry cross readily with their wild ancestors. Behavioral changes during domestication have been quantitative and not qualitative, with modifications manifested in the alteration of thresholds of response to stimuli rather than introduction or elimination of patterns" (p. 2).
2. Did you know that chickens communicate with each other and their mothers from inside the egg? In their chapter On Keeping Chickens, Page Smith (American historian) and Charles Daniel (cellular biologist) state in The Chicken Book (1975), "About twenty-four hours before a chick is due to hatch it will begin to peep in its shell. Researchers have suggested that these peeps, which have already established a barely audible 'communication network' between chick and chick and between the chicks and their now thoroughly expectant mother, are the way in which the chicks, locked in their respective eggs, notify each other that it is time to emerge" (p. 320).
Discussion of Socialization in James V. Craig, Domestic Animal Behavior (1981), begins, "Social behavior begins before hatching in some birds. Fetuses of quail, chickens, ducks, and geese respond to auditory or vibrational signals. As they approach hatching, they begin to make peeping and 'clicking noises' (associated with breathing) within the shell. The clicking noises, in particular, are effective in synchronizing hatching of the baby birds from eggs that are in contact" (p. 111).
In Chapter 3, The behaviour of fowls, in Laying Hens, the communication between chicken parents and their pre-born progeny is thus described: "Between the 17th and the 18th day of incubation, the egg membranes rupture and the embryo begins to breathe. In this phase it already reacts to acoustic and optical signals. 2 to 3 days before hatching, the chicks begin to make contact by voice with each other and with their mother, and the mother with the chicks. The still unhatched chicks can thus draw their mother's attention to any discomfort they are suffering as a result of (e.g.) cold or abnormal positioning. In the case of quail it has been found that the chicks 'come to an agreement' on the time of hatching and leave the egg almost simultaneously. Unhatched chicks also respond to soothing sounds from the mother and to warning cries of the cock" (p. 13).
3. Every year millions of chickens are cruelly debeaked, and starved in their cages for as long as two weeks.
A. Chickens are cruelly debeaked. U.S. poultry producers burn off between one half and two thirds of the beaks of commercial laying hens and of chickens, particularly the males, used for breeding. For example, Don Grubbs of American Selected Products told the Midwest Poultry Federation convention as reported in Feedstuffs: The Weekly Newspaper for Agribusiness, June 7, 1993, p. 20, "At 2-10 weeks, remove one-third to one-half of the beak, at 12-18 weeks the beak corners should be rounded to leave one-third to one-quarter inch of front nostrils and at 18 weeks the lower beak should be left one-eighth inch longer."
Debeaking is done to reduce "cannibalism and feather picking," "feed wastage," and "appetite." On "feed wastage" and appetite reduction, see e.g. James V. Craig et al. (1992), Beak trimming effects on beak length and feed usage for growth and egg production, Poultry Science 71:1830-1841: "Because [beak] intact birds of most genetic stocks appear likely to eat and waste more feed than required for maximum economic returns, breeders also may need to select [breed] for decreased body weight or appetite" (p. 1841) because "Neurophysiological and behavioral observations provide indirect evidence that beak trimming of pullets [young hens] causes pain, which apparently persists for weeks or even months" (p. 1830).
In 1965, the Brambell Committee, a group of veterinarians and other experts appointed by Parliament to investigate animal welfare concerns arising from intensive farming, reported: "There is no physiological basis for the assertion that the operation is similar to the clipping of human finger nails. Between the horn and bone [of the beak] is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the quick of the human nail. The hot knife used in debeaking cuts through this complex bone and sensitive tissue causing severe pain" (R.W.R. Brambell, Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals Kept Under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, Command Paper 2836, par 97, p. 26.
In (1990) Behavioural evidence for persistent pain following partial beak amputation in chickens, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 27:149-157, Michael J. Gentle et al. state, "[I]n terms of the peripheral neural activity, partial beak amputation is likely to be a painful procedure leading not only to phantom and stump pain, but also to other characteristics of the hyperpathic syndrome, such as allodynia and hyperalgesia [the stress resulting from, and extreme sensitiveness to, painful stimuli]" (p. 150). Further, "The modifications in the pecking and drinking behaviour of birds following partial beak amputation [conforms with other reports] that PBA [partial beak amputation] results in long-term (56 weeks) increases in dozing and general inactivity, behaviours associated with long-term chronic pain and depression" (p. 156).
In an address presented at the meeting of the American Society of Animal Science and the International Society for Applied Ethology, in Pittsburgh, PA, on August 8-11, 1992, Ian Duncan, Professor of Poultry Ethology at the University of Guelph and Director of the Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, stated, "[T]here is now good morphological, neurophysiological, and behavioural evidence that beak trimming leads to both acute and chronic pain . . . These facts taken together provide strong evidence that beak trimming is not such a trivial operation as has been previously thought. It almost certainly causes both acute and chronic pain" (Speech reprinted in Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, National Agricultural Library, Jan-March 1993, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 1, 4-5).
"Every year millions of chickens are cruelly debeaked." Of the more than 7 billion chickens slaughtered in federally- inspected establishments in 1993, at the very least, 175,000,000 were debeaked once, possibly twice, in their lives, as this figure represents the number of "mature chickens" (spent laying hens and breeding fowl) slaughtered in federally-inspected establishments in 1993 (Poultry Slaughter, National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA, February 3, 1994).
As to the nature and causes of "cannibalism," it is grouped with other "severely abnormal behaviors" including "repetitive, purposeless behaviors such as pacing" in confined chickens, p. 600, in Joy A. Mench and Ari van Tienhoven, Farm Animal Welfare, American Scientist, Vol. 74, Nov-Dec 1986, pp. 598-603; and with "Vices ['abnormal behavior'] Related To Feeding Behavior" in Craig, Domestic Animal Behavior, pp. 208-214.
The term "cannibalism" is a misnomer, because confined birds do not actually consume each other except insofar as they are driven to pick at each other in an attempt to satisfy a nutritional deficiency, i.e. protein or sodium, by getting it from the bodies of their cage mates. "High quality" or not, no standardized diet can meet the needs of each individual bird. Nor does the industry try to meet these needs apart from economics. Take, for example, this statement in Feedstuffs, Dec. 20, 1993, p. 1: "Dietary calcium and phosphorus levels are fed for egg shell quality and economics, not for maintenance of bone quality in the hens."
"Cannibalism" and debeaking have a recent history based in the intensive confinement of flocks. Broiler Industry (July 1976) explains in its review of the growth of the U.S. broiler ("meat- type") chicken industry (1926-1976), that "using wire platforms . . . led to a completely new problem--cannibalism" (p. 51); "sunshine brooders were little more than elevated wire platforms that led to a great deal of cannibalism. This in turn led to debeaking to stop feather pulling" (p. 55); "When high energy feeds were not adequately fortified with other nutrients, especially protein, they caused a new problem--cannibalism and feather picking. The problem was aggravated by excessive use of light. . . . Debeaking helped to control cannibalism and soon became a standard practice" (p. 142).
American Poultry History 1823-1973, published by the American Poultry Historical Society (1974), states, "When chickens are too crowded they are likely to develop the habit of feather picking, and this can easily lead to cannibalism and ensuing mortality" (p. 233).
Poultry trade and scientific publications define debeaking ("beak trimming") as a "stress" on the bird and give advice on how to minimize this "stress." Nowhere in the literature can I recall ever having seen it said that debeaked chickens "can continue to eat and drink immediately with no ill side effects." (Comparison of "beak trimming" with trimming your fingernails is purely for public consumption; poultry people don't talk this way to each other in their published writings.) On the contrary, advice is routinely given on how to avoid "starveouts," by, for example, making sure the trough is deep enough so the birds don't scrape the "tender beak" along the bottom, because "Striking the tender beak would certainly be a deterrent to normal feed consumption" (North & Bell. Commercial Chicken Production Manual, Fourth Edition, 1990. p. 250). Following debeaking, "Birds lose weight for 1 to 2 weeks after trimming. Growth rate is reduced for a long period; it will take from 10 to 20 weeks for a bird to attain the weight of a similar nontrimmed bird," etc. (North & Bell, p. 247). Experiments have shown that "Beak-trimmed birds had to peck three to five times as often to eat the same amount of feed as untrimmed controls" (Joseph M. Mauldin, 1992, Applications of behavior to poultry management, Poultry Science 71:634-642, p. 637).
In regard to the claim that, following debeaking, "the chicken beak regenerates, just as does the human fingernail," North & Bell state on page 247, that, ideally, "The hot blade not only severs the beak but acts as a cauterizer, destroying the tissue responsible for generating beak regrowth. With any method of hot beak trimming, it is extremely important that the chick's tongue not be burned." Should the bird's beak grow back, however, "it may be desirable to 'touch up' beaks when regrowth has occurred . . . Care should be taken to avoid burning the tongue" (Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching, First Edition, March 1988). The emphasis on being "careful" refers to the fact that "Beak trimming is a very tedious task . . . Too often it is done carelessly, creating more stress than necessary when the beak is cut too short, or by not removing enough, which allows the beak to grow back and eventually regain a near-normal length" (North & Bell, pp. 246, 251).
"Cannibalism" is described by scientists as a pathological behavior in birds resulting from "enforced inactivity" (Nicol, World's Poultry Science Journal, Vol. 46, March 1990, p. 31; "a vain attempt to 'dustbathe' on the bare wire floor of their cages;" "a by-product of their attempts to behave like free birds" (New Scientist, August 7, 1994, p. 16). In a letter to me dated January 31, 1992, Joy Mench stated that "aggression and cannibalism are not related to one another either causally or functionally. . . . [C]annibalism is probably related much more strongly to [frustrated] food-searching and exploratory behaviors than to aggression."
Marian Stamp Dawkins at Oxford provides insight into the causes of "cannibalism": "Junglefowl, which are the wild ancestors of our domestic chickens, spend long hours scratching away at the covering of leaves that hides one of their favourite foods - the minute seeds of bamboo. An ancestral memory of this way of life seems to have carried down the generations into the cages of our modern intensive farms so that even highly domesticated breeds have the same drive to scratch away to get their food - if they have the opportunity" (Dawkins, Through Our Eyes Only? The search for animal consciousness, 1993).
Scientific field studies of the social organization and behavior of the feral chicken (e.g. research by McBride et al. in the mid-1960s) show a highly complex social life with virtually no fighting. Klaus Vestergaard summarizes the data in Aspects of the normal behavior of the fowl, Tierhaltung, Vol. 12, 1981, pp. 2-7, "Generally, aggression is rare among free-range birds including the Red Junglefowl and feral fowls" (p. 6).
Chickens are foragers by nature, not fighters, with an undiminished evolutionary instinct to range. They have excellent full-color vision, like ours. They have highly developed hearing enabling them to recognize the location and identity of other members of the flock over wide areas amid dense foliage. They have a fascinating, well-documented courtship and family life. Our society has chosen to imprison these active birds for life and then to resort to "blaming the victims" for the results of what we have done to them and, alternatively, to acting like we're doing them a favor by mutilating them to save them from the effects of the pathological behavior that arises in them as a result of their being forced to live in the pathogenic environments that reflect aspects of human nature, not their own.
B. Chickens are starved in their cages for as long as two weeks. The question posed in your letter--"Since debeaking is almost exclusively done in commercial applications of thousands of birds, why in the world would they starve their birds for two weeks?"--suggests to me that perhaps you are not directly associated with the U.S. poultry industry. Hens used to produce eggs for human consumption are not starved to reduce the effects of aberrant pecking behavior, but to control and manipulate egg production and market supply, i.e. prices.
Laying hens are either sent to slaughter at 17 - 18 months old or kept for another laying cycle or more, whichever is cheaper. Hens to be "recycled" are force molted (an artificial version of the very different natural molt which is undergone by all birds in the course of a year, often during the autumn months, for plumage rejuvenation and maintenance). Their food is removed or severely restricted causing the hormone levels that induce egg production and inhibit feather growth to drop. New feathers push out old ones and the hen stops laying for one or two months instead of three or four. In Commercial Chicken Production Manual (1990), North & Bell state: "A fast of 4 days will usually cause a flock to cease egg production. Longer fasts [note misuse of the word 'fast'] of up to 14 days will usually give superior results, but extreme care must be taken to monitor body weight losses and mortality" (p. 434). A "very popular" method developed at North Carolina State University includes a week of 24-hour continuous artificial lighting prior to food deprivation for 14 days or more (North & Bell, p. 439).
Harms et al. describe "a conventional molt" of "commercial egg production hens" as "a 10-day feed withdrawal" (1993 Journal of Applied Poultry Research 2:107-110, p. 107). Bell states: "Egg production and egg shell quality patterns can be altered with judicious use of various molting techniques [including the use of drugs] and feeding programs . . . Fasting periods can range from 5 to 18 days, but the use of these extremes should be examined carefully and economic considerations should be part of any analysis" (1992 Journal of Applied Poultry Research 1:200-206, p. 206).
Unlike the United States, Great Britain no longer allows food or water to be withheld from hens for more than 24 hours. Forced molting by prolonged starvation was banned by the 1987 Welfare of Battery Hens Regulation. In the U.S., the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes bi-monthly forced molting statistics in Chickens and Eggs. Thus, for example, in September-October, 1994, of the nearly 278 million total layers reported, 5.1 (13.9 million birds) were reported as being force molted during those months.
In addition to the forced molting described above, "Removal of feed several hours or even a few days before the hens are loaded on a truck" is standard procedure, because the industry will not "waste" feed that will not be converted to eggs/profits (Feedstuffs, Dec. 20, 1993, p. 1).
A link between the cruelty of the forced molting of chickens and foodborne diseases in consumers of eggs has been shown to exist. Holt & Porter, 1992, Poultry Science 71:1842-1848, showed that "Induced molting significantly depressed the cellular immune response and increased the severity of a concurrent intestinal Salmonella enteritidis (SE) infection. Molted birds shed significantly higher numbers of SE during the feed removal period than the unmolted group . . . creating "an actual disease state in the alimentary tract of affected hens" . . . (p. 1842).
James L. Smith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, discussed at a May 27, 1994 seminar on the emergence of new foodborne pathogens the evolution of pathogens "into more virulent strains. He offered as examples the starvation of animals before slaughter as a factor that enables E. coli to colonize more readily, and the changing of light patterns to induce egg laying, resulting in an increase in Salmonella colonization" (Food Chemical News, June 6, 1994, p. 5).
5. To date, there are no federal welfare laws protecting poultry in the U.S. Poultry are excluded from coverage under the 1958 Federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though birds presently constitute 7.5 billion of the 7.7 billion animals slaughtered each year in federally-inspected establishments (1993 USDA figures). Millions more birds are slaughtered every year in state-inspected facilities, live poultry markets, and backyard operations.
There are no federal welfare laws regulating the treatment of poultry during any phase of the birds' life in food production including incubating, hatching, brooding, raising, transport, or slaughter. The 1906 Meat Inspection Act contains provisions (1978 amendments) for "humane slaughter" of livestock; however, there are no comparable provisions for "humane slaughter" of poultry under the 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act.
Although the 1966 Federal Animal Welfare Act (amended 1970, 1976, 1985, 1991) defines "animal" as any "warm-blooded animal," the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, which is charged with enforcing the Act, refuses to promulgate regulations to include birds. (A recent Court challenge to this refusal failed "for lack of standing of the plaintiffs," i.e. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and The Humane Society of the United States.) Thus, birds used in experimental research and in other areas such as entertainment, exhibition, and the pet trade are excluded from federal oversight. Farm animals, per se, are excluded from the provisions of the Federal Animal Welfare Act. Although the USDA/APHIS recently decided to use their statutory authority to "include farm animals used for nonagricultural purposes under the protection of the Animal Welfare Act," they decided that "In promulgating regulations and standards to enforce the AWA, we have interpreted the AWA as giving the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to exclude certain species, such as birds" (USDA/APHIS letter to me dated March 8, 1994). Further, "Standards are to be issued in the future for the use of farm animals in biomedical research. Birds are considered as a separate entity from farm animals" (USDA/APHIS letter to me dated May 6, 1994).
6. Their life is in your hands. This image expresses the fact that domestic chickens are at our mercy and that as civilized beings we have an opportunity, an obligation, and the power to change their plight.
In concluding I would like to point out that my husband and I have kept chickens since 1985, and that we have never had a single incidence of "cannibalism" or of one of our chickens being killed by another. We currently have 21 amiable rescued chickens, five roosters and sixteen hens. Three are broiler hens, eight are "spent" debeaked caged laying hens, one is a Rhode Island Red hen, several are bantams, and one is a shining blue-black Polish hen. Our roosters include two large white leghorns with some brown feathers, two bantams who are very good friends, and a beautiful grey and white rooster with flecks of gold and a long flowing tail. As I write, they are all together out in the yard peacefully sunning themselves, perching, and otherwise enjoying the day.
Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns
P.O. Box 59367
Potomac, MD 20859
c: Clifford Feng, Advertising Director