Saturday, August 26, 2006

Humane Treatment

Many animal welfare advocates object to killing chickens for food or to the "factory farm conditions" under which they are raised. They contend that commercial chicken production usually involves raising the birds in large, crowded rearing sheds that prevent the chickens from engaging in many of their natural behaviors. Fast food giant KFC has been the target of PETA recently due to its methods of keeping its 750 million plus chickens each year.

Chickens generally live five to eleven years depending on the breed ; chickens raised for meat are slaughtered prior to sexual maturity (six weeks), and thus many of the aggressive behaviors seen in adult chickens (fighting, cannibalism) are seldom seen in for-meat chickens. Both male and female chicks have the ends of their beaks cut off, to reduce the risk of them injuring each other in close quarters. Because beaks are sensitive, trimming them without anaesthesia is considered inhumane by some. It is also argued that the procedure causes life-long discomfort.

When advocating more humane treatment of chickens, it is sometimes asserted that they are intelligent. On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno a trained chicken was shown playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a toy piano and bowled 3 strikes. Animal welfare groups such as PETA regard such cases as evidence that the birds are intelligent. Dr. Chris Evans of Macquarie University claims that their range of 20 calls, problem solving skills and the ability to recognise each other by facial features demonstate the intelligence of chickens, saying "As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys."

Another animal welfare issue is the use of selective breeding to create heavy, large-breasted birds, which can lead to crippling leg disorders and heart failure for some of the birds. Concerns have been raised that companies growing single varieties of bird for eggs or meat are increasing their susceptiblity to disease. For this reason, many scientists are promoting the conservation of heritage breeds to retain genetic diversity in the species.

In 2004, 8.9 billion chickens were slaughtered in the United States