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The Life of a Chicken in a Factory Farm

In a hatchery, a chick bred for meat pecks his way out of an egg. He’s surrounded by hundreds of other chicks, and the air is filled with the sound of their chirping calling for their mothers whom they’ll never meet.

Suddenly the hatching basket is opened, and he’s pulled out by rough hands and tossed onto a conveyor belt. As the conveyor belt moves, workers separate the sick, weak, and undesirable chicks and toss them into garbage cans filled with broken, rotting eggs or throw them into a chute leading to a grinder, where they are ground up alive.

The workers stack crates full of chicks on top of each other and some become trapped and crushed between them. Crates with tens of thousands of chicks are loaded onto a large truck and transported to a factory farm. By now, he’s getting very hungry and thirsty as the last nutrients remaining from his yolk sac are used up. After arrival, crate after crate, the birds are dumped onto a pile.

For seven weeks, the chick lives in a shed, never seeing the sunlight or breathing fresh air. Because he has been bred to gain as much weight as possible, his bones and heart can’t keep up with his accelerated growth. During this short timespan, his weight increases from 1.5 ounces to over 9 pounds. This is the equivalent of a human baby growing to more than 600 pounds in 2 months. His legs can’t handle the strain of holding up his body, and it becomes difficult and painful for him to walk. His feet and chest develop open sores that are made worse by the urine and feces building up on the floor. The shed is never cleaned, and the ammonia in the air burns the chick’s eyes and lungs. Some birds die of heart attacks, infections, or dehydration when they are immobilized by leg fractures.

One day, several workers enter the shed. One of them grabs the chicken by his leg and carries him upside down. The worker grabs three more chickens and shoves them all into a crate. The chicken’s wing catches on the opening of the crate, but the worker forces his body through anyway, and his wing fractures. He huddles in pain in the corner as bird after bird is loaded into the crate, until there’s no room to move.

The chicken is transported in the truck for two days with no food or water until he reaches the slaughterhouse. It’s extremely cold outside, and there is no protection from the weather on the truck. Some chickens freeze to death. When the chicken reaches the slaughterhouse, he’s pulled from the crate and hung by his legs upside down in the shackles of the killing line. One of his legs breaks from the force of this action. He is passed through a water bath that sends a jolt of electrical current through his body, intending to stun him. But, for an estimated 90 million chickens in the US, this method of stunning doesn’t work, and they enter the next phase, an automatic rotating blade that cuts his throat, fully conscious. Some of them will drown in the scalding tank that follows and be later discarded.

Undercover investigations expose the chicken meat industry from the hatchery to the slaughterhouse

Our investigations and campaigns are helping millions of chickens who would otherwise suffer much more. While we work to prevent animal abuse, we also fight against deceptive advertising to consumers. Many companies advertise meat products using images of happy animals living outside and terms like “free-range,” “natural,” and “humane.” We’ve brought legal challenges against corporations for false animal welfare and sustainability claims and prevented them from continuing to deceive consumers.

Exposing Abuse in a ‘Humane’ Hatchery (2021)

chicks falling of conveyer belt

Investigators entered a California hatchery to reveal repeated cruelties and callous handling of chicks by a major supplier to the popular restaurant chain Chick-fil-A. Our investigators documented numerous violations of animal welfare laws, including chicks who were mutilated or crushed by machinery, suffered for hours with severe injuries before being killed in mechanical shredders, and were scalded or drowned when trays they were trapped in went through washers.

Animal Equality presented evidence of legal violations to the authorities, and we’re demanding that this company be held accountable.

Cruel Breeding Practices (2022)

bodies of two chickens from factory farm

In Italy, we conducted a groundbreaking investigation that revealed the cruelty of the meat industry’s chicken breeding from a new perspective.

With the support of expert veterinarians and x-rays and tests, we’ve shown how genetic selection for fast-growing chickens—the most widely bred in Italy and factory farms around the world—condemns them to continuous suffering and early death. We are asking the Italian government to ban fast-growing breeds and support a ban on genetic selection for rapid growth in chickens.

Chickens Unable to Stand (2020)

In an innovative approach, Animal Equality collaborated with Público, a top media outlet in Spain, to release an investigation into a Spanish factory farm. We documented the rapid growth of chickens by visiting the same farm during different life stages and revealed that many chickens couldn’t stand because of their large, heavy bodies, and had painful burns on their skin from constant contact with urine- and feces-soaked litter. Chickens had no room to move around and were forced to drink from troughs of moldy water.

Birds Writhing in Pain (2020)

Animal Equality received leaked footage from a German farm that supplied the country’s largest chicken producer, Wiesenhof. We published the harrowing footage of chickens that showed numerous violations of animal welfare regulations. Birds were kicked and shoved by workers and subjected to inhumane and ineffective killing methods, like twisting their necks, that left them writhing in pain for several minutes until they finally died.

We filed a complaint with German authorities demanding criminal charges be brought against the farmers.

Excruciating Injuries on “Welfare Assured” Farms (2020)

Our investigators documented disturbing abuse on eight UK chicken farms, including Moy Park, a supplier of McDonald’s and the supermarket Tesco. On the farms, chickens were unable to reach the water as troughs were raised too high for the smaller and weak to reach. Birds suffered painful skin burns from unsanitary conditions and high levels of ammonia and died in agony when workers slowly crushed their necks.

Abuse and Cannibalism on Welfare Certified Farms (2019)

Animal Equality investigated three Red Tractor-certified farms in the United Kingdom that supplied major retailers after a whistleblower reported the cruel treatment of animals.

Our investigation revealed dozens of birds collapsed under the weight of their unnaturally large bodies and were unable to stand, dead birds left to rot among the living, and desperate chickens eating other birds. Workers violently broke birds’ necks and left them to convulse amidst the flock. Dying birds were thrown onto piles of dead bodies and left to suffer for hours, and workers deliberately kicked and stepped on chickens.

Cruelty Inherent on Italian Farms (2017)

We exposed several Italian chicken factory farms, where birds lived their entire lives in filthy, barren sheds. Animal Equality’s investigators recorded chickens with difficulties breathing, unable to stand, and with painful leg deformities. Many chickens died before reaching the slaughterhouse

Prolonged Deaths in Meat Markets (2019, 2020)

In India’s major chicken-producing states, Animal Equality found practices that violated the most basic animal welfare and food safety standards. Birds were transported to slaughter for days without access to food or water. When they arrived at meat markets, birds were held in packed crates for hours to days and developed painful infections.

At slaughter, chickens suffered for several minutes before dying, and their bodies were de-feathered and processed in filthy conditions. Animal Equality has asked the Indian government to outlaw the slaughter of chickens at meat markets and enforce food safety and animal cruelty laws.

What you can do

Our investigations are crucial in making progress toward protecting chickens. We will continue to fight for the lives of chickens by revealing the truth about the meat industry and its exploitation of animals.
You can help chickens in the meat industry by leaving animals off your plate and choosing plant-based foods instead. You can also share our work widely to let others know about the cruelties of animal agriculture.