Would You Go a Year Before Cleaning Your Cat’s Litter Box?

On modern chicken farms, birds live crammed inside barns and sit atop a ground material that the industry calls “litter.” When this litter is not kept clean, it causes severe problems for the chickens and the workers at the farm.

TYPICAL ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH: Typically, on a commercial farm raising chickens for meat, litter is used for six or more consecutive flocks introduced. Each flock is generally kept for six or more weeks, which translates to the same litter being used for at least one year. Throughout this time, harmful bacteria can spread through the barn, which will present problems for future flocks or to people exposed to the litter or infected birds.

LIVING IN FILTH: When the litter is not properly cleaned, the ammonia levels produced by the birds’ feces and urine will lead to breathing issues and stinging of the eyes due to ammonia in the air. And since many of the birds are too heavy to lift off the ground due to how they are bred, the ammonia-laden litter burns the birds’ feet and bellies, causing feather loss and painful boils. Because the birds’ litter is rarely changed, chickens are forced to sit, eat, and sleep in their own waste.

COMPARE THIS TO YOUR CAT’S LITTER: If you’re having trouble understanding just how gross this really is, imagine not changing your cat’s litter for an entire year. Imagine the urine and poop piling up in the same litter box for a whole year before it is changed. The smell would be horrendous and would no doubt cause issues to your cats overall well-being.

NOT JUST FOR THE BIRDS: Clean, dry litter is not only important for the health and welfare of birds, but also the people who work in the houses. As a result of prolonged or frequent exposure to ammonia, both humans and chickens are at risk of developing chronic sinusitis, causing headache, facial pain, runny nose, and nasal congestion. This causes humans to become desensitized by the smell of ammonia, preventing them from being able to readily detect it in their surroundings.

KEEP IT CLEAN: Keeping litter clean and dry is a critical part of overall management on every chicken farm. But right now, there is no standard in the chicken industry that companies must follow. That is why we have included this issue in the chicken welfare policy that groups are persuading companies to adopt: the Better Chicken Commitment. We ask that companies monitor the air and litter quality and ensure that the litter must be of quantity and quality to provide for a comfortable environment and allow for dust-bathing behavior and foraging/scratching.

ODD ONE OUT: With now over 200 brands having adopted the Better Chicken Commitment, including major players such as Popeyes, Burger King, and Subway, larger companies refusing to commit are falling into the minority. This list of those lagging behind includes McDonald’s. A policy commitment from this single restaurant would impact millions of animals. Please join us in asking McDonald’s to do better for chickens!

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References:
https://extension.msstate.edu/sites/default/files/publications/publications/p2738.pdf
https://thepoultrysite.com/articles/litter-management
http://www.poultrydvm.com/condition/ammonia-burn