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Meat Chickens

Factory-Farmed Broiler Chickens in Australia

While chicken meat is not produced in the ACT, there are chicken meat production localities in the nearby towns of Goulburn and Griffith. Overall, NSW accounts for more than one-third of all chicken meat processing in Australia (

Until chickens were bred specifically for their meat in the 1950s, chicken meat was mainly a by-product of egg production. Older ‘spent’ egg-laying hens had to be cooked for a long time to make them palatable. Chickens bred specifically for their meat produced young, tender meat which did not require the same long cooking time as egg-laying hens. Meat chickens could be cooked by ‘broiling’ which is a type of cooking similar to grilling and relatively quick. For this reason, meat chickens are called ‘broiler chickens’.

The popularity of chicken meat has grown exponentially in Australia. In 1970, 83 million chickens were killed for food. By 2011, the annual number of meat chickens slaughtered for human consumption had grown to 500 million. Australia’s largest poultry processing establishment kills and processes 630,000 birds per week.

How factory-farmed broiler chickens live

Chickens raised for their meat in factory farms spend their entire lives in sheds with tens of thousands of other chickens. Conditions are very cramped in the sheds, with about 20 birds per square metre. That’s about 12 birds living in an area as small as the top of a typical dishwasher. The sheds are not cleaned while the birds live inside them. Instead of pecking and scratching at the ground for food as they would in the wild, factory-farmed chickens live amongst their own wet faeces which burns their chest and feet as it accumulates.

Parkhurst Farms ALV

Parkhurst Farms. Photo by Animal Liberation Victoria.

Understandably, the stress of living in these conditions can be intolerable, which can lead chickens to peck at each other or at dying chickens. When this happens, industry guidelines do not recommend that more space be given to the chickens, or that their sheds be cleaned out. Rather, the guidelines simply advise producers to trim or burn off the chickens’ beaks [section 12.5, National Model Code of Practice: Domestic Poultry, 2002].

As they are grown for their meat, broiler chickens are bred to grow at three times their natural rate. This means their own bodies cannot handle the unnatural weight, and many cannot even walk as their bones and hearts buckle under the pressure.

Broiler feet 1

Broiler feet 2






A rescued broiler chicken's misshapen feet due to the unnatural weight of the overgrown body (T Ward 2009)

At least 4% of these chickens are expected to die within six weeks due to the side-effects of living in such conditions [Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc.]. That’s almost 20 million chickens who die in Australian factory farms each year from illness, being trampled, or starvation or thirst because they are too lame to reach their food and water. The recommended method for dealing with these chickens when they are found dying is simply to ‘dislocate’ their necks [section 12.10, National Model Code of Practice: Domestic Poultry, 2002].

How all farmed (including free-range and organic) chickens die

The chickens who survive conditions in the sheds are taken out after only seven weeks and sent to the slaughterhouse to become chicken meat. Free range or organic broiler chickens are usually slaughtered at about 14 weeks.

Factory-farmed birds taken to the slaughterhouse are caught in the shed, held upside down by hand with up to four other chickens, packed into transport crates that can be as little as 23cm high (ie less than a ruler), with up to 40 birds per square metre, and then loaded onto open trucks (section 4.2, Model Code of Practice: Land Transport of Poultry, 2006). As there are relatively few slaughterhouses in Australia that kill chickens, the birds have to endure these conditions for many hours on the road in all weather conditions.

For the last moments of their lives, broiler chickens are usually hung upside down on ‘shackle lines’ for up to three minutes before having their heads and necks dipped into electrified water baths to ‘stun’ them. Their throats are then cut and they are killed by bleeding. Inevitably, the wings of some chickens touch the electrified water first, or they miss it altogether, meaning they are slaughtered alive and conscious. For birds who are simply decapitated, no stunning at all is required (section 3.5, Model Code of Practice: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments, 2002).

And there ends the short and unnatural life of a typical Australian 'broiler' chicken.


Broiler and battery chickens
Rescued broiler chicken and battery hens on an animal sanctuary near Canberra (T Ward 2009)



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