“Chickens in the U.S. are raised in protected facilities to help keep them healthy.” — National Chicken Council
Per capita consumption of chicken has skyrocketed from 33.7 pounds in 1965 to 85 pounds in 2014. About 8 billion chickens are killed each year in the United States to accommodate this explosive market.
The majority of these chickens are raised in concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs). In the poultry industry, black-out houses are a central component of the CAFO system. Black-out houses — enclosed structures that block all natural light — allow farmers to replace the naturally-occurring waning of sunlight with consistent exposure to artificial lighting that stimulates the growth of the birds. The contained space also gives farmers more control over feeding, drug distribution and, eventually, capturing for slaughter.
The National Chicken Council refers to the enclosures as grow-out houses, which they paint as great places for chickens to live. According to NCC, amenities include:
- A comfortable and protective environment
- Tunnel ventilation systems to provide the birds with fresh air
- Large and open spaces
- Earthen floors
- A bedding of organic material
- A diet of corn and soybean
- Plenty of feed and all the water they can drink
- A lifetime of pharmaceuticals and vaccinations
- Slaughter before they have formed the problematic “pecking order”
- Eight-tenths of a square foot per bird!
- Cozy quarters, because, according to NCC, “by nature, as the old saying goes, the birds do tend to flock together”
The NCC proudly proclaims, “Chickens in the U.S. are raised in protected facilities to help keep them healthy,” as though the factory system benefits the birds. In reality, the CAFO model is antithetical to the animals’ welfare. The sole purpose of the factory system is to produce the most chicken at the lowest cost.
Under the CAFO model, breeding is manipulated to grow larger chickens with bigger breasts in a shorter period of time. In 1925, chickens typically grew to a market weight of 2.50 pounds in 112 days. In 2011, chickens reached an average market weight of 5.80 pounds in 47 days, and with substantially enhanced breasts, which is the most profitable part of the bird. The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary describes the health problems associated with forced rapid growth, including severe leg deformities, insufficient lung capacity, liver disease and heart failure that result in widespread death.
The cramped buildings may contain as many as 40,000 chickens that are allocated as little as one-half square foot per bird. Most boiler chickens spend twenty hours per day in dim artificial light. The chickens walk and lie on a floor of wood chips, rice or peanut shells covered in feces and urine and are exposed to intensive levels of ammonia fumes. Instead of being fed the fruits, insects and green plants that make up their natural diet, chickens are fed weight-enhancing corn, soy and grain. When they are finally captured for slaughter, the chickens are often aggressively grabbed by the handful, carelessly carried upside down and violently stuffed into crates — a fact not mentioned on NCC’s Animal Welfare for Broiler Chickens page.