International Respect for Chickens Day 2012
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In 2005, United Poultry Concerns declared May 4th International Respect for Chickens Day.
It makes sense to have a special day to recognize chickens, who are the most abused animals on the planet. Those raised for meat are slaughtered at 45 days of age, if, indeed, they manage to survive the considerable toll that the industry has placed upon their bodies by forcing them to grow to adult size in only 6 weeks. Many do not–their hearts explode, or their legs give out under the weight that their skeletons are unequipped to support and they simply starve to death on the floor of the enormous warehouses in which they are raised.
In Canada, chickens (as well as turkeys and pigs) can legally be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water, or rest, and there are no limits as to the length of the journey. These standards are among the worst in the industrialized world. They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather. Each bird is worth so little, however, that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates. Every year in Canada, 2 million broiler chickens and 20,000 turkeys are already dead when they arrive at slaughterhouses. An additional 8 million broiler chickens and 200,000 turkeys arrive so diseased or injured that they are considered “unfit for human consumption”.
At the slaughterhouse, they will be dumped onto a fast-moving conveyer belt and hung upside down by their feet to be dragged through an electrical stunning bath. The lucky ones will be rendered unconscious by this process, but because these baths are typically set at a low voltage so as not to damage the meat, many continue on, fully conscious while their throats are cut. The speedy conveyer belt combined with a struggling bird sometimes means that the chickens are still alive when they are dunked into a scalding tank full of boiling water that is meant to remove the feathers from their carcasses. Estimates place the number of birds boiled alive at 1 in 20; at any rate they are so common that the industry has a name for them: redskins.
Despite all this, chickens raised for egg-laying have it much worse. 98% of those in Canada live their entire lives on the slanted, wire floors of cages that they share with 5 to 7 other hens. The Canadian egg industry requires each hen to have 67 square inches of space, slightly smaller than a piece of notebook paper, despite the fact that she needs 144 square inches to spread her wings, and 303 to flap them. Though chickens can live 10 to 15 years, egg production slows down earlier than that; at a year or a year and a half of age, the egg-laying hens are considered “spent”. Some are killed outright at this point–tossed live into woodchippers, buried in mass graves, or even turned into cheap, low-grade meat that hides bruising, like soup, potpie, or baby food. Others will be subjected to forced moulting, and those who do not starve to death during the process will have a few months left in the cages before they, too, are killed. The first and only time they will see sunlight is on the way to slaughter.
Think organic and free-range chickens have it better? Think again. Many of the abuses we consider objectionable in conventional farming are still legal–debeaking and castration without painkillers, the early slaughter of “spent” dairy cows and egg-laying hens, the cruelties of hours or days of transportation, lack of outdoor access, and the slaughter of billions of “useless” male chicks born into the egg industry, to name a few.
So on International Respect for Chickens Day, do an action for chickens! Take a moment to talk to your friends and family. Write a letter to the editor. Remind everyone that chickens are brave, smart, and sociable animals who protect their friends and love their babies just like we do.
For more ideas of how to honour chickens today, check out United Poultry Concerns here.