The Life of a Chicken
Each year, over 60 billion chickens are killed for their meat. That’s eight times the human population—making them the most consumed animal in the world.
The food industry has been promoting chicken meat for decades. But, as consumption has grown worldwide, the animal agriculture industry has looked for new ways to minimize costs and increase profits. The primary way they’ve achieved this is by confining chickens to overcrowded farms to save space.
But this wasn’t enough for them.
So the industry began to selectively breed chickens in the United States 50 years ago to further achieve their goal. As a result, most chickens that exist today are the result of generations of breeding. They’re known as fast-growing chickens because they’re bred to grow as quickly as possible.
The quicker a chicken grows to its ‘slaughter weight,’ the less money the industry has to spend on food, space, and other costs associated with raising an animal.
Over time, the growth rate of a fast-growing chicken has increased tremendously.
In 1925, a chicken would reach a weight of three pounds in 112 days of life. By 2019, a chicken would reach almost four pounds in weight in about 45-48 days of life.
According to the University of Arkansas, if humans grew at the same rate, we would have babies weighing 600 pounds two months after birth!
While the meat industry may benefit from fast-growing chickens, the animals pay the ultimate price. The most important you can do to help them is to keep chickens and other animals off your plate and choose delicious plant-based options.
Below you’ll find the story of a fast-growing chicken, told from the first day they’re born.
Week 1 (6 ounces)
I was born in a hatchery, where eggs are hatched artificially and in large numbers.
If we were allowed to reach reproductive age, chickens like me wouldn’t be able to mate naturally because we’ve been bred to grow to such a large size.
I won’t be able to see my mother or receive care from her when I need it.
When I’m only a day old, I’m grabbed by careless hands that spray my feathers with a pink spray. The spray is a vaccine and the first of many drugs I’ll receive in the coming weeks.
Next, I’m thrown onto a conveyor belt. Some newborn chickens have fallen off the conveyor belt and aren’t picked back up. I watch them from where I am, and some are crushed by the people who work here. I’m so afraid the same thing will happen to me.
Instead, I’m placed onto a truck that will take me and many other chicks to a shed where I’ll live for the rest of my short life.
The truck is noisy, and I’m scared.
Thankfully, I arrive in one piece at the shed, and, for a moment, I can count myself lucky for that. It’s a really crowded place, and it’s so noisy. I still don’t know that I’ll never see the sunlight.
I keep looking for maternal warmth, but I can’t find it.
There are thousands of chicks with me, but very few people are here.
There are bright artificial lights that are rarely turned off.
I would like to rest my eyes and sleep for more than a few minutes, but it’s impossible with this light and the sound of chirps from the chicks around me. Is it normal to always feel so tired?
Even the breeze I feel against my face isn’t natural. Giant fans are ventilating the room, but the air remains barely breathable.
Will I live here forever?
There isn’t a single blade of grass under my feet. Instead, there is all the excrement produced by my roommates and me. Nobody comes to clean the floor.
Some of my roommates are struggling to breathe due to the ammonia and have started to lose their feathers.
Will that happen to me too?
Week 2 (1 pound)
I feel weaker and weaker. I’m being pressed into a smaller space, the air has become even more unbreathable, and the light gives me the feeling that I haven’t slept properly.
But that’s not all. I feel heavier, and I’m struggling to move.
I feel like I’ve suddenly gained an unnatural amount of weight. How did my body grow so fast?
While I’m confined in this awful place, I dream of everything I don’t have. I dream of my mom, a free space to scratch, clean and dry ground to take my sand baths, and a place to myself to perch outdoors.
I look around at my roommates, and many of them are injured. Some have burns on their skin caused by the urine-soaked ground. Others seem resigned to not moving anymore and just stare into space.
It hurts me so much to see them suffer like this. But I’m completely helpless and fear that it won’t be long before I’m in the same condition.
Week 3 (1.7 to 1.9 pounds)
Each day as I get heavier, I get closer and closer to my end.
I have already accumulated so much weight that I’m finding it difficult to get off the ground. I can hardly get water and food. My legs don’t feel normal. Every time I want to drink or eat, it takes so much energy just to get off the floor.
The supply of water and food is entirely automated and for some of the other chicks, this is the cause of their death.
The troughs and feeders are placed at a height that some chicks can’t reach. They’re deliberately deprived of water and food because they’re considered too small to reach the necessary weight to be sold for meat.
My feet also begin to bend under the weight of my body.
Some of my roommates get so sick that they can’t even survive long enough to be slaughtered. This morning, I counted dozens of dead bodies.
Their hearts suddenly stop causing them to collapse and never get up again.
I just saw one of my friends die like this. I approached him to give him a little affection and warmth, but it didn’t help.
We’re in pain, but we aren’t receiving any veterinary care. I’ve heard that it’s too expensive and that our lives are worth too little.
Week 4 (2.8 to 3.1 pounds)
Many people think I’m an unintelligent animal, but that’s not true.
One of the things that I do exceptionally well is remember. I clearly remember what I was like when I came out of the hatchery just five weeks ago, and I can feel that I’m much bigger now.
My body is enormous, and I can barely hold it up anymore.
I see my body reflected in that of my roommates. They’re incredibly large. They look like adult chickens, but they’re still chicks struggling in their first month of life—just like me.
I don’t feel very well.
I’ve been fed so many drugs since I’ve been here.
Day after day, my breathing becomes more and more labored. I find it hard to move, and my skeleton can no longer bear all this weight.
I often find myself unable to keep my balance, and when I fall on my back, it’s hard to get up.
If that wasn’t enough, the shed is getting hotter, smellier, and more crowded as we grow. So now there’s hardly any room to move.
By now, I’ve lost all hope of being able to see what the world is like outside. I don’t think I’ll ever leave this shed.
A few days ago, I looked around and thought about my situation.
I thought that the biggest problem I would face here was the harsh environment. I imagined that I would feel better if I could get outside the shed. I could warm myself in the sunlight, peck in a soft meadow, and be caressed by the wind.
But now, I realize that the real prison isn’t the shed I’m trapped in—it’s my own body.
My chest has swollen enormously, and I find it challenging to balance. I spend most of my time frantically flapping and trying to get up.
I’m so exhausted that even just breathing is tiring.
With a body like this, it’s impossible to survive.
Many of my roommates have fallen to the ground and never got up again.
With the extra weight I’ve gained, it won’t be long until I’m slaughtered for human consumption.
Final Week (5.1 to 6 pounds or more)
I know that my short journey hasn’t been an exciting adventure. But it’s important for me and the others trapped here to know that someone outside the shed knows the truth.
This life and this body cause me so much pain.
What’s even more unfair is that I survived all this hardship for nothing. I’ve endured all this suffering just to end up on someone’s plate.
The last phase of my life is the most terrifying. A huge machine arrives at the shed and grabs us roughly by our fragile wings or legs. It captures us and locks us into tiny cages. From there, we’re crammed into huge trucks and face a long journey without food and water.
They take us to a place where they pull us out of the cages to hang us painfully upside down. We’re panicking now.
I won’t dwell on how painful it is to be hung by my fragile feet and how difficult it is to breathe upside down, but I’m sure you can imagine.
They tried to stun me in a bath of electrified water. I felt excruciating pain and indescribable fear. I think they wanted to knock me out, but I pulled my head away from the water at the last minute, so they didn’t quite succeed. I just feel a fogginess that prevents me from thinking clearly.
I’m very confused right now, and I feel my time is approaching.
I know I’m ‘just’ a chicken, and I understand the life of a chicken like me might not interest anyone.
But please remember me and share my story with others. And please choose compassion. Leave me and others like me off your plate.