Sunday, January 30, 2011

Intensive chicken farming

In egg-producing farms, birds are typically housed in rows of battery cages. Environmental conditions are automatically controlled, including light duration, which mimics summer daylength. This stimulates the birds to continue to lay eggs all year round. Normally, significant egg production only occurs in the warmer months. Critics argue that year-round egg production stresses the birds more than normal seasonal production.

Meat chickens, commonly called broilers, are floor-raised on litter such as wood shavings or rice hulls, indoors in climate-controlled housing. Poultry producers routinely use nationally approved medications, such as antibiotics, in feed or drinking water, to treat disease or to prevent disease outbreaks arising from overcrowded or unsanitary conditions. In the U.S., the national organization overseeing chicken production is the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). Some F.D.A.-approved medications are also approved for improved feed utilization.

In egg-producing farms, cages allow for more birds per unit area, and this allows for greater productivity and lower space and food costs, with more efforts put into egg-laying. In the U.S., for example, the current recommendation by the United Egg Producers is 67 to 86 in² (430 to 560 cm²) per bird, which is about 9 inches by 9 inches. Modern poultry farming is very efficient and allows meat and eggs to be available to the consumer in all seasons at a lower cost than free range production, and the poultry have no exposure to predators.

The cage environment of egg producing does not permit birds to roam. The closeness of chickens to one another frequently causes cannibalism. Cannibalism is controlled by de-beaking (removing a portion of the bird's beak with a hot blade so the bird cannot effectively peck). Another condition that can occur in prolific egg laying breeds is osteoporosis. This is caused from year-round rather than seasonal egg production, and results in chickens whose legs cannot support them and so can no longer walk. During egg production, large amounts of calcium are transferred from bones to create eggshell. Although dietary calcium levels are adequate, absorption of dietary calcium is not always sufficient, given the intensity of production, to fully replenish bone calcium.
Under intensive farming methods, a meat chicken will live less than six weeks before slaughter. This is half the time it would take traditionally. This compares with free-range chickens which will usually be slaughtered at 8 weeks, and organic ones at around 12 weeks.
In intensive broiler sheds, the air can become highly polluted with ammonia from the droppings. This can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory systems and can cause painful burns on their legs (called hock burns) and feet. Chickens bred for fast growth have a high rate of leg deformities because they cannot support their increased body weight. Because they cannot move easily, the chickens are not able to adjust their environment to avoid heat, cold or dirt as they would in natural conditions. The added weight and overcrowding also puts a strain on their hearts and lungs. In the U.K., up to 19 million chickens die in their sheds from heart failure each year.

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