Nature and industryAt the age of seven weeks, the age at which chickens ("broilers") are slaughtered for meat, their cousins in nature are far from independent. They are still chicks learning to make their way in the world and how to find food under the protection of their mother. Their relationships with their mothers start when they are embryos inside eggs, and continue with the hens' attentive nurturing for the first few weeks of the chicks' lives.
In the poultry industry the chicks are deprived of their mothers' protection and guidance and any opportunities to satisfy their curiosity. They hatch inside incubators, confined in a crowded and boring environment, and are treated like nothing more than biological machines. More than 150 million fowls of this kind are killed in Israel every year-over 10 million of are turkeys, and most of the rest are "broiler" chickens. In addition, many chicks are killed as "surplus" animals even before reaching the fattening facilities-the yearly number of incubated eggs is 220 million. These numbers place Israel's rate of poultry product consumption per capita among the highest in the world.
Breeding the industrial wayThe lives of many fowls in the poultry industry no longer begin with contact between hens and cocks. Artificial insemination has taken its place and is now the only way some species can reproduce: Turkeys for example, have been deformed by selective breeding as a result of the demand for huge males and small females. If allowed to reproduce naturally, the males would hurt the females.
Before the artificial insemination process starts, the farmer restrains the male bird and forcibly obtains semen by squeezing the bird's sex organ. In many cases this procedure causes bleeding as a result of injuries to the gutter tissue or the sex organ. Next the female is held down while the inseminator presses strongly on her stomach and back to accentuate her vagina. Then he inserts a tube into the bulged vagina with a circulatory movement. The tube is attached to a syringe containing the semen. This is how chicks come into the world.
Growing by the beat of the marketAll the chicks in the poultry industry are hatched in incubators. From there they are transported to huge closed sheds and from that moment on, their short lives are controlled by one principle: maximum growth in minimum time and money. They are forced to multiply their body weight 50-60 times within seven weeks, by means of artificial growth hormones and different methods of artificial lighting. The method of "alternate lighting" is based on darkening the shed, which makes the chicks fall asleep, and after a short time they are awakened by strong light to induce them to eat, as natural sunlight would. After the chickens eat, the shed is kept in darkness again, and the process is repeated. Under the "continuous lighting" method, which is more widely used, the shed must be lit constantly to prevent the chicks from sleeping-this increases their food intake and maximizes profits.
The race after the schnitzelAgricultural research is focused on the "development" of ever more profitable varieties of chickens. The method is based on artificial selection of fowls, who suffer since birth from deformities; by cross-breeding them , the "developers" can reduce the size of inedible parts like feet, and increase the weight of the most profitable parts like the breast. Because of this manipulation, creatures are born with small feet incapable of supporting their oversized bodies. Turkey's breast weight, for example, has been doubled in relation to the total body weight: from 19.7% of total body weight in 1940 to 38.2% in 1980. Today, most of the companies involved in genetic selection are trying to "produce" turkeys with "schnitzel" (breast meat) outweighing the rest of their body parts put together. The researchers are also trying to "develop" chicks with no feathers to eliminate the need for plucking machines, which remove the feathers after slaughter.
Victims of deformed bodiesThe fowls pay a heavy price for these genetic manipulations. They collapse under the weight of their own bodies because their small bones and skeletons cannot carry the huge burden of their muscles. The exaggerated weight of their breast pulls them forward and makes it difficult to walk. Their legs become wounded and diseased: They suffer painful foot deformities, injuries and swellings; their legs form unnatural angles; and many birds can hardly walk to get food and water.
Another painful and crippling disease is ascites, which kills about 4 million chickens a year in Israel. In contrast to the muscle tissues "cultivated" for fast growth, the heart and lung systems have remained the same size, and they cannot get enough oxygen to the fast-developing muscle cells. This means liquids accumulate in the belly, causing an increase in blood pressure until the heart cannot cope with the burden.
A living space the size of a paving stoneChickens need adequate space, but shed space is expensive and it is in the farmers' interests to produce the most meat in that space. That is why they crowd the chickens as much as possible-toward the limit of their survival and sometimes even more-10-20 birds per square meter in open sheds, and 28 birds per square meter in climate-controlled facilities. The space allocated for each chicken is less than the size of a paving stone: 20 x 20 cm. These are birds whose wingspans reach half a meter by the end of their short lives. They are forced to trample each other in order to get to the feeders, and the weak ones are pushed away and left to die from thirst and hunger.
Prison syndrome: violence.Domesticated chickens and their wild relatives establish pecking orders when given the opportunity. Each bird's place in the pecking order is determined through strength demonstrations-mainly symbolic ones. The thousands of birds crowded together on industrial poultry farms cannot maintain proper social order. As a result, they peck each other and pluck each other's feathers until they cause wounds and sometimes death. In order to keep them from injuring and pecking each other to death, they are kept in darkness. Another method to reduce damage from attacks is to cut off the chickens' beaks. These "solutions" do not ease the birds' restlessness, which stems from heat, stress and boredom. When a human enters the shed or the birds hear a loud noise, they run by the thousands to a corner-some get trampled and killed.
Life in a sewerBody wastes are not a nuisance in nature, since wild chickens live in vast open spaces. But on industrial poultry farms they are doomed to sit in their wastes all their lives, because the sheds are only cleaned after the chickens are sent to slaughter. The bedding (sawdust, hay etc.) that covers the cement floor gets dirty and wet as a result of leaks in the cooling system, water and chicken waste. Standing on the decayed bedding for such a prolonged period causes ulcers and burns on their feet. The air is polluted with ammonia gas produced by the wastes. Humidity is high, or clouds of dust spread all over the shed. Many sheds are not air-conditioned, and during the hot days of summer many birds die, sometimes even whole flocks. No wonder farmers are warned to stay inside the sheds only for a very short time.
Filth and diseaseBreathing the polluted air continuously over many weeks causes the chickens to develop chronic respiratory diseases, eye problems and skin injuries. Research shows that only half the amount of ammonia gas found in sheds can cause many diseases, such as infections in the respiratory system and viral diseases. Even one-tenth of the customary amount can harm the chickens' respiratory systems. Cornea infections are another result of a long stay in the sheds. The chickens suffer a lot of pain and they scratch their eyes with their wings, screaming with pain. Some get blinded. In addition, the ammonia gas causes skin diseases.
The pollution in the air and in the shed bedding contribute to the development of painful bedsores. In their natural environment the birds do not suffer from such wounds. But the density, the lack of stimulation and the surplus body weight causes the chickens to lie motionless most of the time. The huge breast is in constant contact with the ground, and 60 percent of the bird's body weight rests on the breastbone. The pressure on the skin causes cysts full of sticky liquid under the skin near the breastbone. The infection makes these wounds chronic.
The last journeyIn natural conditions, chickens live around eight years. In the poultry industry they are slaughtered when they are just seven weeks old. Their last journey starts when workers enter the shed. The chickens, who are not used to the presence of humans, are terrified as the workers chase andcatch them, thenhold their legs upside down, several birds in each hand. Next they are pushed into very small crowded cages and loaded on the trucks that will take them to the slaughterhouse. Many suffer from broken legs and wings due to the method of gathering, loading and unloading. This pain will end only hours later, when they are slaughtered.
The birds are kept in terrible conditions in the truck; they have to endure severe heat and humidity, sometimes suffocating as the result of being crowded together with thousands of other birds. The chickens caged at the sides of the truck have no protection from strong winds, direct sunlight (which they are exposed to for the first time in their lives) or from rain. This horrible journey can last 24 hours and more, because sometimes there is no one in the slaughterhouse to kill them immediately and they are detained in their cages. Through the entire journey they do not get any food or water. The hunger, thirst and severe stress leave them exhausted and dehydrated-dehydration is one of the main reasons chickens are deemed "unfit" for slaughter. Around 1.5 million chickens die in Israel every year during transportation-the death rate is twice as high as that in Western Europe. In extreme weather conditions, more than half the chickens might die during transport.
End of the roadIn Western Europe and in the United States, the last minutes of the chickens' lives consist of being strung by their legs, moving and screaming with fear while they watch the throats of the birds before them slit. In most cases they are stunned before slaughter by electric current. When the system does not work properly, they are slaughtered while fully conscious, and if slaughter is not successful, they are thrown alive into boiling water.
In Israel, the norm is what Western countries consider extreme cruelty: The ritual slaughtering must be done when the animal is fully conscious (according to Jewish and Islamic laws). Therefore, the birds are not stunned before slaughter, and their deaths are very painful and terrifying. Even in cases where slaughter is "successful," it can take several minutes for chickens to die as a result of blood flow to the brain from peripheral blood capillaries. Some of the chickens are still alive when they are taken to a machine that plucks out their feathers. In cases where the slaughterer is not successful in slitting their throats according to Halacha laws, the wounded birds are left to die slowly. In the past, Kosher slaughter was considered a relatively humane method of killing-fast slitting of the main artery in one quick movement. But this method lost its relative advantage in the 20th century, when slaughterhouses became mass killing facilities. For humane reasons, Kosher slaughter is banned in Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands.
At the end the chickens' bodies will be sold to people, who will eat their meat around a table without ever thinking that they are eating the dead bodies of creatures that were alive-without asking what was done to those creatures in order to enable them to buy those bodies and eat them.