Who is the broiler chicken?
Broiler (or meat) chickens originated from a cross between red and grey jungle fowl and Rock Line birds. Just like laying hens, broiler chickens would naturally spend their day foraging for food, scratching the ground looking for insects and seeds, maintaining their plumage condition via dustbathing and preening, and perching in trees to avoid predators.
Due to the rise in consumer demand for cheap poultry meat - which is often regarded as a more sustainable, healthier meat option - the broiler industry has grown dramatically in the past 50 years. Today, in the UK we eat on average 25kg in a year - that's more than 2 kg per month.
Broiler chickens have an average lifespan of 7 to 8 years, whereas in commercial production they are slaughtered as early as 35 days old , so they do not get to reach adulthood during their lifetime.
Globally, over 70% of meat chickens are raised in industrial farming systems, the large majority in North America, Europe, South America and a rapidly increasing proportion in developing countries, such as China, Brazil and Indonesia.
Standard intensively farmed broiler chickens are reared under high stocking densities in large sheds that are barren except for water and food points, with no natural light. They have increasingly been bred for very fast growth, high meat yield and feed efficiency. Their fast growth rates affect their ability to walk and can cause lameness and serious heart conditions.
Antibiotics are routinely overused in intensive farm systems to help chickens survive in poor conditions where disease can spread easily. Leading authorities such as the European Medicines Agency and the WHO say that the overuse of antibiotics in farming contributes to higher levels of antibiotic resistance in some human infections.
The quality and nutritional content of intensively farmed chicken meat is also generally poorer than higher welfare chicken and can be affected by ‘white striping’, where fatty deposits are stored in the breast muscle as the bird grows, or ‘wooden breast’, a hardening of the muscle tissue that occurs when tissue cells die due to a lack of oxygen in the fast-growing muscle. Both are known to cause pain and restrict movement in fast growing breeds as well as being unpalatable to consumers.
Discover more about how to provide broiler chickens with a better quality of life below.