animal transport

Chickens raised for meat in Canada

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682 million chickens were killed for meat in Canada in 2016. Called “broiler” chickens by the industry, they are the most farmed land animal species by far — representing about 88 per cent of all farmed land animals produced for food in Canada annually.

These birds are bred to produce the most meat in the least time. Their brutally short lives are the result of genetic selection, used to encourage extremely fast growth in a short time. In Canada, a meat chicken typically lives 33-35 days after hatch. The rapid growth puts strain on the birds’ bodies.

In 1950, it took 84 days for a broiler chicken to reach market weight of 1.36 kilograms but, today, birds reach two kilograms in only 33-35 days. Canada’s birds are slaughtered even younger than U.S. birds because they grow faster in cleaner Canadian barns.

Birds are housed on the floor in crowded barren buildings without environmental enrichment or windows for natural light. Birds are denied the opportunity to perform natural behaviours, such as foraging, during their short lives; there are few opportunities to perch, explore or dust bathe. There are too many birds for a well-defined pecking order to develop.

Lights are kept on 20 hours a day to encourage eating. Four hours of darkness do not allow the birds adequate rest.

As birds reach slaughter weight, they have increasingly less space and are densely packed. Because of their excessively heavy weight, many develop lameness, making it difficult for birds to move easily. Some will go hungry and thirsty if they are unable to reach food and water. High moisture and manure accumulation causes litter burn on the birds’ feet, contributing to the painful lameness many experience. Air quality becomes polluted with ammonia, dust and microorganisms, causing respiratory ailments.

Broiler breeder parent birds produce the eggs that become broiler birds. These birds pay a high price for their fast-growth genetics. While their progeny live only 33-35 days, parent birds are kept for breeding for one year. Because fast-growth genetics would cause them to grow to the point where they can no longer breed, they are instead under-fed, given just enough food to keep them producing eggs. As such, they live in chronic hunger. To keep parent birds producing eggs, they may be subjected to “skip a day” feeding.

Transport and Slaughter: When birds reach slaughter weight, they are grabbed by their legs, carried upside down, three or four per hand by “catchers” and crammed into travel crates, often resulting in injuries. The crates are stacked on tractor trailers, then transported in all weather conditions to slaughter plants. Birds die during transport in crude tractor-trailers due to hot summers, cold winters and inadequate weather protection.

At the slaughter plant, the birds are grabbed from the crates and quickly hung upside down onto leg shackles. Still hanging, the birds are moved through an electrically charged water bath for stunning. However, some birds raise their heads and miss the stun bath and, still conscious, are moved to swirling cutting knives, where their necks are cut. More humane kill systems — using inert gases or C02 — exist, and should be used in all chicken and turkey Canadian slaughter plants, as they are in Europe.

Future progress

Some progressive North American food retailers have made commitments to purchase broiler chickens with slower-growing genetics, environmentally enriched housing systems and improved slaughter systems using inert gas or C02, by 2024 or later. Requiring closed-circuit TB in slaughter plants would also improve welfare, but this has not occurred in most cases.

To read about Controlled Atmosphere Killing, click here for PETA’s report.

Read the report Broken Wings by Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals.

To learn how to help, visit our sister website HelpTheChickens.ca.