17 Chicken Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

Industry Facts About Chickens Raised for Meat

1. 51.4 billion chickens are artificially hatched, fattened up and slaughtered as 42-day-old babies every year globally. A chicken’s normal lifespan is 10–15 years. (1)

2. Chickens and turkeys together represent 99% of land animals slaughtered for food in the United States. (2)

3. Chickens bred for meat are arguably the most genetically manipulated of all animals, forced to grow 65 times faster than their bodies normally would, and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate. (3)

4. Chickens are housed in giant, overcrowded sheds, where they are packed in by the thousands and forced to stand and sit on filthy, manure-laden flooring, which is typically cleaned out only every 2 to 4 years. “Free range” is a meaningless term in this sense, since almost all chickens raised for meat are uncaged.

5. Heart failure afflicts chickens at a rate of at least 4.7% and is attributed to genetic manipulation, but this figure only covers birds within their first 42 days of life. (4) The rate of heart failure increases in the weeks to come. Two of Free from Harm’s rescues died of heart failure in their first 3 to 4 months of life. Their baby hearts cannot keep up with their adult-sized bodies.

chicken facts, lame chicken

Lame chicken in intense pain. Photo by Animal Liberation NSW from their undercover invetigation at a Red Lea Broiler Farm in NSW in October 2012.

6. Every year globally, at least 12.5 billion chickens experience painful leg problems, including lameness, due to their breeding for rapid growth. (5)

7. “Ammonia burn” and respiratory diseases and fatalities are also common from exposure to high concentrations of ammonia emanating from large accumulations of feces. (6)

8. After six weeks, chickens are cornered by “catchers” who often come in the dark and in the middle of the night, grabbing terrified chickens by their feet and roughly stuffing them into crates which are loaded onto transport trucks with forklifts. In the process they suffer from broken legs and wings, lacerations, hemorrhage, dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, and heart failure. Millions die before even reaching the slaughterhouse.

chicken facts, chicken catching machine

Chicken-catching machines vacuum up chickens and blow them through to a conveyor belt or directly into cages as shown here.

9. Chicken-catching machines resembling giant street sweepers were introduced in the 1990s. These 6-ton machines vacuum up 7,000 birds an hour with rubber finger-like projections that place them on a conveyer belt and force them into crates. (7)

chicken facts, chicken crates

Chickens in crates on their way to slaughter. Photo: Anita Krajnic, taken at a Toronto Chicken Save vigil.

10. Jammed inside these crates, chickens may travel up to 12 hours to the slaughterhouse through extreme temperatures and weather conditions without food or water. Upon arrival, chickens may languish in these crates for an additional 12 hours before being unloaded. (8)

11. Chickens too sick or injured to enter the food supply are dumped into large mass graves alive, as exposed in this video footage from an undercover investigation at a poultry farm, conducted by one of the leading farmed animal advocacy organizations, Compassion Over Killing. (9)

12. At the slaughterhouse, chickens are not stunned, but shackled and dragged upside down, fully conscious, through electrified water that paralyzes their muscles so that their feathers will come off more easily after they are dead. 

13. Millions of chickens and turkeys are scalded alive after their throats are cut. Former slaughterhouse worker Virgil Butler reports that in the scald tank, “the chickens scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads.” 

14. So-called “humane” slaughter alternatives include the “kill cone,” decompression, and gas chambers. The kill cone is the most barbaric and cruel form of killing imaginable;  chickens are stuffed head first down a long funnel. Their heads are pulled through a small opening, and their necks are slashed as they thrash and scream in agony and blood flows out of their mouths.

chicken facts, slaughter15. Chickens and turkeys go to slaughter lame, sick, and in pain. They are infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, E coli, and other bacteria that make people sick with foodborne poisons. Since poultry products are the main source of foodborne illness in people, due to the filthy conditions in which they are raised, slaughtered chickens are soaked in toxic chemicals which are consumed along with their flesh.

16. In less than 60 years, the number of broiler chickens raised yearly has skyrocketed 1,400%, from 580 million in the 1950s to nearly 9 billion today. (10) Even with such an immense increase in their exploitation, chickens bred for their flesh still have virtually no rights or laws to protect them.

17. Chickens can now be killed at a rate of 140 chickens per minute (up from 130), and slaughter plants can police themselves even more, making them more efficient killing machines with less government interference than ever. (11)

Edith, a sweet, innocent baby we rescued who fell off a transport truck on her way to the slaughtrhouse.

Edith, a sweet, innocent baby we rescued, who fell off a transport truck on her way to the slaughtrhouse.

Now that you have the basics on how chickens are routinely used and abused in agriculture, check out what they are really like in their natural environment. What we’ve learned about the chicken brain and behavior in just the last 10 to 15 years is truly remarkable and explodes the “bird brain” stereotypes that have been so pervasive for far too long. See our comprehensive report, Chicken Behavior: An Overview of Recent Science.

(1) “Have We Been Lied To” brochure, p. 5, published by Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM)

(2) United Poultry Concerns

(3) Tom Horton, “42-Day Wonders,” Washingtonian, republished under permission by UPC

(4) Poultry welfare in developing countries, pgs. 1–2, Poultry Development Review, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Poultry in Motion: With Invention, Chicken Catching Goes High-Tech, The Wall Street Journal. June 4, 2003

(8) Chicken transport, United Poultry Concerns

(9) Pilgrim’s Shame: Birds Buried Alive, Compassion Over Killing website

(10) Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America, PEW Charitable Trust website

(11) New Rules Say Poultry Plants Can Conduct Own Checks, New York Times website