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The majority of the 1.1 billion chickens farmed each year in the UK for food are bred to grow so fast millions of them are dangerously heavy for their age, struggle to walk properly and can suffer from heart defects.
The majority of chickens reared in the UK and globally are bred to grow very quickly so that producers can meet the demand for large volumes of cheap meat from this now highly commoditised animal. The focus is on producing the greatest amount of meat in the shortest time. This is not the case on RSPCA Assured chicken farms where the farmers must apply strict RSPCA welfare standards throughout the birds’ lives.
Modern farmed meat chickens grow so fast due to genetic selection, supported by diet. Since the late 1950s, genetics companies have approximately halved the amount of time it takes for a meat chicken to achieve the same slaughter weight - at the rate of about one day shorter per year. They grow so quickly to the ‘required’ weight that many chickens are now just five to six weeks old when they are slaughtered.
Most are reared in highly stocked, climate-controlled barns with unlimited food and water never far away. One particular result of this rapid growth is that these birds are inactive, particularly as they get older and often suffer more from leg and other health problems, so spend most of their time sitting or eating, gaining more weight until they reach slaughter weight.
The welfare problems associated with conventional chicken production don’t end with fast growth rates. The majority of cheap chickens don’t have enough space to move around freely, in fact, they are given less space per bird than an egg-laying hen kept in a cage. Their fast growth means that they are often unable to use any enrichment provided, such as perches.
Chickens that grow too fast can suffer severe welfare issues. As they become too heavy for their skeletons, they can develop leg problems and struggle to walk properly. They can also suffer from heart and other health problems.