Chicken is the most consumed meat in the world, which means chickens are farmed and slaughtered in the greatest numbers. But very few people understand what chicken farming and slaughter look like, or just how many victims the industry takes.
What Is the Process of Killing Chickens?
Most chickens endure appalling and unnecessary suffering during the slaughter process, and it all begins with being rounded up and stuffed into crates for the journey to the slaughterhouse.
1. Cruel Transport
Tens of thousands of birds are typically kept inside each factory farm shed. Catching gangs move into these sheds early in the morning, and over a period of a few hours, they grab every bird who is still living and shove them into crates. The birds may be grabbed by their legs, wings, or even necks, making this a highly painful process as well as a terrifying one. The crates are loaded onto trucks for the one-way trip to a slaughterhouse, which could be hundreds of miles away. No matter the weather – the birds may have to endure blistering heat or bitter cold – the slaughter process begins.
At the slaughterhouse, the birds are removed from the crates and shackled upside down by their legs. This is inhumane for many reasons but specifically because this is an incredibly vulnerable position for a bird to be in, and they experience enormous fear. But it is also inhumane because many of the birds have broken, fractured, or deformed legs – due to their breeding and poor treatment – which makes this practice excruciating. The slaughter line they are shackled to moves towards a tub of electrified water, and the birds’ heads are dragged through it. This is intended to render the birds unconscious, but it often fails.
Increasingly, instead of live shackling and electrical stunning, birds are left inside the crates and are lowered into gas chambers. This method is marketed as “more humane” but footage shows it is far from that. Besides, when was gassing a being to death against their will ever humane?
The slaughter line moves on and the birds who are live shackled and electrically stunned move towards the mechanized neck cutter. Not all birds are the same size, so the blade may cut smaller birds or larger birds on the tops of their heads or on their chests. And any birds who are struggling and raise their heads at the moment of incision may miss the blade altogether. Because so many birds are slaughtered every minute, there is no time to deal humanely with the birds who are still conscious. The slaughter line moves on regardless.
Next comes plucking. Whether the birds are dead or not, or even unconscious or not, they are plucked by a machine that pulls out their feathers. Before that, they may be dropped into a scalding tank which loosens the feathers, and where – if the poor creatures have survived this long – they will ultimately die by being boiled alive. Investigations have uncovered this horrific cruelty in the UK, the US, and Australia, showing just how common it is within the chicken industry. The removed feathers may be sold to producers of comforters or down jackets, making these household items cruel byproducts of the slaughter industry.
Once their feathers have been removed, the birds’ bodies are cut open and their insides scooped out – a process known as evisceration. This is done by a machine that also transfers pathogens from one carcass to the next. The evisceration process is particularly renowned for spreading Campylobacter – a common bacterial cause of food poisoning. It can cause abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, and can be fatal in the very young, the elderly, and the immunosuppressed.
How Are Chickens Killed?
Aside from the mainstream methods of slaughter listed above, there are some other ways that chickens are killed.
Non-Stun Slaughter (Religious Slaughter)
Some religions require that animals are conscious when the blade cuts their throats, and this means that the animals may receive no stunning at all.
Different followers of the Muslim faith accept different definitions of halal slaughter. For some, stunning is acceptable; for others it should be ‘light stunning’ only (which may leave the animals semi-stunned or not stunned at all); others accept ‘post stunning’, meaning the animal is stunned immediately after their throat has been cut; and for others, there must be absolutely no stunning. Most halal meat in the US comes from animals who were stunned to some degree.
There are no exceptions to the non-stun requirements for kosher meat. No animals are stunned, and they are all fully conscious throughout the ‘sticking’ of the blade and up until such time as they have lost so much blood that they lose consciousness.
Necks Are Twisted
Not all chickens survive their allotted six weeks. Those who are deemed too small or weak to turn a profit are killed by farm workers in the sheds. Often, they are killed by a worker twisting their necks.
When we turn our attention to the egg industry, we find that millions of day-old birds are also slaughtered every year. At the industrial hatcheries that supply hens to the industry, one male is hatched for every female. Clearly, males cannot lay eggs, and there is no profit to be made from their bodies, and so they are gassed to death on their very first day of life.
Grinding Up Chicks Alive
Another option for disposing of these baby birds is maceration – another way of saying “grinding them up while they are alive”.
Do Hens Feel Pain When Slaughtered?
All chickens can experience pain, and as the entire process – from the catching gangs to the scalding tank – is horrific, there is every likelihood that every bird experiences pain to one extent or another. At its worst, that pain would be unimaginable.
Are Chickens Humanely Slaughtered?
“Humane slaughter” is a term dreamed up by the industry to try and reassure the public that all is well, when clearly it is not. At VFC, we do not believe there is any such thing as humane slaughter, not just because of the suffering involved but because we do not believe there is a humane way to take another’s life against their will.
How Many Chickens Are Killed a Day?
In the US, more than two million birds are killed every single day.
How Are Chickens Treated on Factory Farms?
Chickens are treated with callous disregard for their wellbeing.
Because the conditions inside factory farms are so harsh, the birds inevitably become highly stressed. With no way of escaping, they take their frustrations out on one another and may peck and even injure other birds. In itself, this is of little consequence to the industry, even if it causes severe suffering. But because injured birds are less productive, farmers take action. No, they don’t make conditions more bearable, thereby reducing stress-related aggression; instead, they cut off the ends of the birds’ beaks so that any stress-related actions do not lead to lost profits.
Confinement in Battery Cages
Battery cages are commonly used to confine egg-laying hens. They are incarcerated for the whole of their productive lives, with no room to stretch their wings, and nowhere to roam, roost or fly. For birds who need their privacy, and their own space, cages are a prison. Psychologically and physically, they cause severe harm. Around 85 percent of all eggs consumed in the US come from this system.
Birds are purpose-bred for profit. Those who are reared for their flesh are selectively bred to put on as much weight as possible as quickly as possible. It does not matter to the industry that these poor birds are always hungry, and that the rapid weight gain causes skeletal deformities, broken bones, and heart attacks. So long as the overall profit is maximized, individual suffering is disregarded.
In the egg-laying industry, the birds are purpose-bred to lay the largest number of eggs possible on the smallest amount of feed. Laying 300 eggs a year is entirely unnatural, and each egg requires calcium for the shell. There is not sufficient calcium in the birds’ diets, and so the nutrient is instead taken from their bones, leading to fractures and breaks.
On chicken farms, even the daylight is manipulated. When the lights are on, the birds are conditioned to eat more, and more weight makes more profit. But this means the birds do not get to rest, and that can raise their stress levels while reducing their immunity. It’s just one more way to force birds to live with chronic stress.
High Levels of Ammonia
The tens of thousands of birds inside every shed produce large amounts of waste, and that contains ammonia. Since the sheds are not cleaned out at all during the lifetime of the birds, the floor soon becomes soaked with ammonia-rich waste. The birds have no choice but to stand and sit in it, and this caustic and corrosive chemical burns their feet and chests. It is also an irritant and can cause them respiratory distress and painful eye conditions.
When people say that eating meat is natural, they have clearly not understood what modern farming looks like. There is nothing natural about it! Every process is manipulated for profit, even the birds’ own bodies. And at every stage, from the hatchery to the slaughterhouse, suffering is inevitable.
So, a huge thank you to everyone who chooses animal-free options for their meals. You are our – and the chickens’ – heroes.