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The Truth About Meat Chickens

Updated on May 1, 2012

My happy free range layer chickens

An unexpected gift

I recently got a batch of layer hens under the form of day- old -fuzzy butts and watched them grow happily under the brooder lamp for several weeks. Now that the temperatures raised and the days are pleasantly milder, they are sent free range in my 2.33 acres of land. I have studied as much as I could about their care and did all I could to raise, happy and healthy chickens. They now have grass and bugs to feed on and an inside comfy coop with lots of hay waiting for them when the sun goes down.

Last week, right as I was putting my brooder away in the attic thinking of how big the hens had grown and how all 16 of them could hardly fit now in the brooder, my friend knocked on the door. As I descended the steps I heard this happy chirping and caught a glimpse of my friend holding this fluffy yellow being wrapped up in a light blue handkerchief.

''I have a gift for you!'' she claimed as I walked closer.. I looked at this yellow being that was starting to get cold.

''How old is it?'' I asked after patting this friendly looking chick on the head.

''Just one week''

''One week?'' I asked with a note of suspicion, ''Are you sure?''

''Yes, my son's school had this project where the eggs were incubated and after hatching and watching them grow for a week, they are sent home with the kids''.

''Why is it so big?'' I asked recalling my layer hens being half of its size.

''Oh, it's a broiler'' she said casually, but it may still lay random eggs for you.

I took the shivering chick and reassembled the brooder to accommodate this very different looking chick. It seemed happy to be warm enough and happily ate its food immediately and guzzled down some water. I observed this yellow fellow for the rest of the evening and was astounded by the amount of food it ate. As it prepared to sleep, it started to chirp loudly, so my hubby took it out of the brooder and placed it on his lap. The chick calmed down and eventually fell asleep soundly with its head stretched out in total comfort.

Right as I was going to bed, my friend called me back. 'Is your chick feeling lonely?'' she said.

''Yes, sort of''

''Would it like some extra company?''

''Are you kidding me?''

''No, I am serious, my friends cannot keep these chicks''.

''Wow, don't these schools ask parents before giving these chicks out?''

''I guess not'' was the last reply.

So here I was with a happy trio of broiler chicks. Luckily, this mom gave me the two extra chicks with a whole bag of chick starter food. How I needed that! It was amazing the amount of food these chicks ate! The first one I had, ate the amount five of my other layer chicks would normally eat. Later, in bed, I researched these type of chicks only to realize some hard to believe facts.

Hard to Accept Facts

The first thing that sort of left me appalled was realizing how short lived these broiler chicks are. While in my layer chickens their life expectancy was around 7 to 10 years, broilers were claimed to live for only a mere year, - if they were fortunate enough to make it!-

Of course, my first thought was ''right, these chickens hardly make it to one year because they are probably butchered and served deep fried on somebody's plate'' but no, it was not because of this. Rather, I learned that these birds rarely make it to one year, because a good amount of them will suffer from a heart attack or other deadly disorder. Their excessive weight would eventually put too much strain on their heart (or other vital organs) to cause them to die.

Not only, these Cornish crosses or Cornish-Rock chickens are also prone to orthopedic problems, again because their excess weight will put too much strain on their limbs causing them to become distorted or even fractured. I therefore went on the search for what I could do to prolong these poor chick's lives.

One expert chicken advisor told me to feed aspirin to prevent a heart attack, another told me to put them on a weight loss program, by cutting their food supply at night. This made perfect sense, as these chicks continued to eat and eat and eat through the night. I know this because I heard them repeatedly pecking at the food at different times in the night, whereas my layers used to sleep through the night and eat early in the morning.

Also, while my 16 layer chicks were enough to fit into my storage bin container, these three chicks alone appeared to be snug already at three weeks old! One chick ate the amount of food about five of my layer chicks were able to eat, and what comes in must come out, causing me to change the litter three -four times a week, whereas my 16 chicks required only once a week cleanings! We also were free to leave these broilers without the storage bin cover on since they lacked the physical ability to jump out, whereas our layers would readily jump out to meet and greet us when the opportunity presented!

Not to mention, the overly strong odor these broiler chicks emanated. Our layers had a pleasant smell of barn, a sort of straw-like scent, whereas, these three chicks smelled seriously like raw chicken, the smell nauseated me so much I had to move them away.

Video Discretion Advised: Debeaking chicks, Not for the faint of heart

What happened to good old fashion chickens?

I learned that about fifty years ago, chickens were all just that, plain chickens. Then as money blindfolded the human kind, two categories of chicken were produced: chicken layers and chicken broilers.

My broiler chicks were growing so rapidly because they are made in such a way that they are ready to be slaughtered at only six weeks of age! At six weeks my layers, were sent out in the great outdoors to start exploring and enjoying life scratching dirt and eating bugs! They were still chirping and had baby blue eyes. These broiler chicks were just babies in big bodies!

According to Mercy For Animals, meat poultry are genetically altered to grow twice as fast, and twice as large as their ancestors. Hundreds of millions of them die before reaching six weeks of age simply because they are pushed well over their biological limits and their heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body.

Also, when the two other baby chicks joined my lonely one, the latter made it crystal clear it did not want to share the food with the newbies. She or he would get in front of the food dispenser and block the other two from having access to the food while chirping loudly. There were never fights over food in my layers, they always shared their food happily.

Later, I read that broilers may have an aggressive appetite. When sent to a stable with access to a pasture in a study, broilers would be out in the sun for half an hour and then spend the rest of day nearby food and water. They were selectively bred to be greedy eaters....

De-beaking is something many poultry companies resort to in order to minimize pecking due to food aggression and stress from living in tight living quarters. This is something done with no pain killers when the chicks are just one day old using a de-beaking machine. According to the Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing, some chicks are in so much pain afterward, that they will not eat or drink and will eventually starve to death.

And these are just a few things that happen to broiler chicken due to being selectively bred that way, the rest of the stuff done to these chickens is a whole other story. A small insight? Broilers are raised with the lights constantly on to force them to eat non-stop, they are fed growth-promoting drugs and antibiotics, and are prone to life-threatening and debilitating conditions.

So I therefore had to accept the fact that my broiler chicks were not going to live long simply because they were not meant to. And in the meanwhile, I started seriously considering becoming a vegetarian...

Video Discretion Advised, not for the faint of heart: 45 Day Life of a Broiler Chicken

My happy barred rock chicken at six weeks old

My happy Plymouth Rock Chicken

My happy Jersey Giant Chicken


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    • sunchild28 profile image


      7 years ago from Nigeria

      Nice hub but can i get one chicken for myself.

    • wholesaletoys profile image


      7 years ago from El Monte, California

      Well they are only happy until they get their happy little heads cut off! Of course, you don't mean it that way. They raise allot of chickens here in the Philippines around their homes. These chickens actually roost in the trees. And they run so fast you would not believe it. Voted you UP and said your AWESOME. Thanks

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you Lucky Cats! I really appreciate your comments and totally agree with you!

    • Lucky Cats profile image


      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Yes, sadly, this is true. The horrific conditions of layer hens in fctory farming situation, and broiler chicks...crammed 4-6 in a closely confined, lifelong situation, is terrible and sad. You have given many people the opportunity to 'not look the other way,' and realize just what happens to the poor animals who are raised for our consumption. I sometimes think the human race is insane. How, otherwise, could we possibly do this to other living beings? There truly is NO reason for this to continue on. As you have suggested; "I started seriously thinking of becoming a vegetarian...." and as the previous comment by JayeWisdom also points out, our dietary choices are cruel, indeed. Animals, large and small; cows "cattle," pigs, chickens suffer for our unnecessary life style. What an honest, truthfully insightful hub which I appreciate so much. Thank you! Kathy aka Lucky Cats.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for commenting, I will definitely read that book as I really think there are also many health risks in eating meat from these genetic freaks. My father in law in Italy raised meat chicken in the past year and he never heard of them not being able to walk or growing so much and so fast, so I believe in Italy there are still some old chicken specimens. I hope they keep it that way, in Italy I had some of the tastiest chicken ever, but as I look at these broiler chicks my appetite for poultry completely dissipates..they just look like walking chicken breasts on thin legs, it's disgusting..

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Thank you so much for writing this hub! I hope it gets a lot of traffic and the people who read it are moved by the information.

      I was a vegetarian for about 8 years, then slowly drifted back to eating poultry and seafood until I read EATING ANIMALS, by Jonathan Foer. After learning not only about the horrendous cruelty to animals that occurs throughout their lives right to the immensely cruel end, but also about the potential harm to people and the planet from "factory farming" of animals for food, I became a vegan. If more people read that book, even if they didn't have strong feelings against animal cruelty, they would be afraid to eat poultry and meat. I encourage you to read it. (Then, you probably will become a vegetarian!)

      I don't have any problem with people eating eggs from chickens that are raised humanely such as your layers are, with their feet allowed to touch the ground. You are to be commended for raising your own layers that way, and their photos show the results of your good care.

      Now that many people are worrying about pesticide residue on vegetables and deciding to grow their own backyard gardens, I wish they would also grow their own laying hens for eggs, because there are reasons just as compelling for doing so.

      As for the poor broilers, they've been genetically altered, and there's no going back. I doubt there's a "real" non-mutant chicken left in the Western world from which to begin again....All because of the greed of corporate factory "farmers." They've almost turned the word "farming" into a dirty word. What a shame that the family farm depicted in children's picture books is such a rarity.

      Again, thank you for a wonderful hub! JAYE


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