Chapter 2 – Fowl
How do you think chickens live? I’m talking here
about the ones that are reared for meat rather than the
ones that lay eggs, because there is a difference. In
farmyards, scratching around in the straw? Wandering
around fields having dust baths? Afraid not! Today’s ‘broilers’ (an
American word meaning to ‘grill’, as in cook)
are crammed 20,000 to 100,000 or more in one shed and
never see so much as a ray of sunlight.
Imagine a huge shed with wood shavings or chopped-up
straw on the floor and not a window anywhere. When the
day-old chicks are first put in, there seems to be plenty
of room, with the little balls of fluff running around
everywhere, eating and drinking from the automatic troughs.
The bright lights stay on the whole time, apart from
the half-an-hour in every 24 when they are turned off.
This isn’t so the chicks can have a nap. It’s
because if they never see darkness and the lights go
off accidentally because of a power cut, they panic and
some might be crushed to death.
Seven weeks later, just before they’re killed
for meat, these little chicks have been tricked into
growing at twice the speed they would naturally. The
constant light is part of the trick, making them eat
much longer and much more that they would normally. So
is the food they’re given. It is unnaturally ‘high
in protein’, making them put on weight – and
it often contains ground up bits of other chickens.
Think of the same shed now, with the chickens fully
grown. Each bird weighs an amazing 1.8 kg and has only
as much space as a computer screen. You can hardly see
the straw and wood shaving, which is just as well because
it hasn’t been changed since the first day and
is now soaked with seven-weeks’-worth of droppings.
The chickens have grown so fast that they still ‘tweet’ like
baby birds and their eyes are still blue like babies
but their size is the same as an adult bird.
If you look carefully you’ll see that some birds
are dead. Others are not bothering to eat or drink but
just sit and pant. This is because their hearts can’t
pump enough blood to feed their huge bodies. The dead
and dying are collected and disposed of every day. According
to the farmer’s magazine, Poultry World, around
12 per cent of all chickens die like this – 72
million every year – before they even reach the
slaughterer’s knife. And the number is increasing
all the time.
There are also things that you can’t see. You
can’t see that their food always contains an antibiotic
medicine which these chickens need every day to ward
off the diseases which would spread like wildfire in
such overcrowded conditions. You can’t see that
four out of five have broken bones or deformed feet and
legs because their bones aren’t strong enough to
carry their huge weight. And you can’t see that
many of them have burns and blisters on their legs, feet
These are ulcers caused by the ammonia in their droppings.
It is unnatural for any animal to spend its life standing
on its own droppings, and ulcers are just one of the
results. Ever had little ulcers on your tongue? Painful
aren’t they? Well these poor birds are often covered
In 1994, 676 million chickens were killed in Britain,
and almost all of them lived in these awful conditions
because we’re told, people want cheap meat. It
is a similar story in the other European Union countries.
In the USA, six billion broilers are killed each year,
98 per cent of which are factory farmed in the same conditions
I’ve just talked about. But when were you or your
folks last asked if you wanted chicken meat that cost
less than tomatoes and involved such cruelty? Unfortunately,
scientists are still looking for ways to make them put
on weight even faster so they can kill them sooner. The
faster they grow, the worse for the chicken but the more
money the producers make.
It isn’t just chickens either that spend their
whole lives in overcrowded sheds, it’s the same
for turkeys, and for ducks for that matter. If anything,
it’s even worse for turkeys because they’ve
still got many of their natural wild instincts, so their
captivity is even more stressful.
I bet you think a turkey is a waddling white thing that
looks like an extra from the Hammer House of Horrors.
Well, a turkey is really a very handsome bird, with black
wing and tail feathers that shine red-green and copper,
and a white bar across their wings.
Turkeys still live wild in some parts of the USA and
South America. They roost in trees and nest on the ground
but you have to be very quick to catch one, as they can
fly at up to 88 kilometres an hour and can keep this
speed up for over a kilometre-and-a-half. Turkeys wander
far and wide looking for seeds, nuts, grasses and small
crawly things to eat. The great fat creatures produced
for our tables, that can’t fly and can barely walk,
have been created by producers determined to make them
bigger and meatier.
Not all baby turkeys (or poults as they’re called)
are reared like chickens in the completely artificial
environment of broiler sheds. Some are put in pole barns,
which do have natural light and ventilation. But even
in pole barns the growing poults have almost no space
and the floor still becomes a soaking mess.
It’s much the same story for turkeys as it is
with broiler chickens – the growing birds suffer
ammonia burns and constant doses of antibiotics, as well
as heart attacks and pain because their legs can’t
support their huge weight. The crowded conditions lead
to stress and boredom, and as a result the turkeys peck
each other. Producers have developed a way of stopping
the birds from harming each other in this way – they
slice the end of their beaks off with a red-hot blade
when they’re just a few days old. In the wild or
when there’s enough space around them, turkeys
don’t peck each other in this way.
Some of the most pitiful turkeys are the ones kept for
breeding. They can grow to the huge weight of six stone
and have such diseased hip joints that they can barely
Doesn’t it seem strange that when people sit down
for Christmas dinner, to celebrate peace and forgiveness
and all the better things in life, they do it by first
cutting something’s throat and killing it? When
they ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and say
what a lovely turkey they’re munching into, they
close their eyes to the pain and filth that was its life.
And when they carve its huge breast they probably don’t
even know that this great lump of flesh has turned turkeys
into freaks. We have produced a creature that can’t
even mate without us doing it for them using artificial
insemination. Not a very merry Christmas for them!