The Life of a Chicken

From birth to death in five weeks

Chickens are the most consumed animal in the world. Over 60 billion chickens are killed for their meat every year, which is eight times the human population.

Chickens have been selectively bred over generations to grow as quickly as possible.

The animal agriculture industry has done this for a simple reason: to raise and kill as many chickens as it can, in the shortest time possible, and therefore increase profits.

The quicker a chicken grows to their ‘slaughter weight’, the less money the industry has to spend on food, space, and all the other costs associated with raising an animal.

Faster-growing chickens exist today as the result of genetic selection that began over 50 years ago in the United States.

The food industry has been promoting chicken meat for decades and as consumption around the world has grown, the meat industry has looked for new ways to minimise costs and increase profits.

One of the main ways has been to confine chickens in increasingly crowded farms to save space, but even this hasn’t been enough for the industry.

And so faster-growing chicken breeds were selectively bred into existence.

In 1925, a chicken would reach a weight of 1.2 kg in 112 days of life.

By 2019, a chicken would reach almost 2.2kg in weight in about 45-48 days of life.

Over time, the growth rate of a fast-growing chicken has increased massively.

The meat industry may benefit from fast-growing chickens, but the animals pay the ultimate price.

According to the University of Arkansas, if human beings grew at the same rate, we would have babies reaching 300kg just two months after they were born.

Below you’ll find the story of a fast-growing chicken, told from his perspective from the first day he is born.

WEEK 1 (Up to 100 grams)

I was born in a hatchery, a place where eggs are hatched artificially and en masse.

Chickens like me – if we were allowed to reach reproductive age – would be unable to mate naturally because we have been bred to grow to such a large size. 

I’ll never get to see my mother or be looked after by her when I need care.

When I am only one day old, I am grabbed by careless hands that spray my feathers with a pink spray. The spray is a vaccine and the first of many drugs that will be given to me in the coming weeks.

Next, I am thrown onto a conveyor belt and then onto a truck that will take me, along with a host of other chicks, to the shed where I will live for the rest of my days. 

I see that some newborn chickens have fallen off the conveyor belt and are not picked back up. I watch them from where I am and some are crushed by the people who work here. I’m so afraid the same thing will happen to me too.

Instead, I arrive in one piece at the shed and, for a moment, I can count myself lucky for that. It’s a really overcrowded place and it’s so noisy. What I don’t know yet is that I will never see the light of the sun.

I keep looking for maternal warmth, but I can’t find it.

There are thousands of chicks with me, but there are very few people here.

There are artificial lights turned on everywhere. They are rarely turned off.

I would like to rest my eyes and sleep for more than a few consecutive minutes, but with this light and with the deafening sound of chirps from the other chicks with me, it is impossible. Is it normal to always feel so tired?

Even the breeze I feel against my face isn’t natural. There are huge fans ventilating the room, but even so, the air remains barely breathable.

Will I live here forever?

There isn’t a single blade of grass under my feet. Instead, there is all the excrement produced by me and my roommates. Nobody comes to clean the floor.

Some of my roommates are struggling to breathe due to the ammonia from the excrement and have started to lose their feathers.

Will it happen to me too?

Week 2 (100 grams to 800 grams)

I feel weaker and weaker. I’m being pressed into a smaller space, the air has become even more unbreathable, and the light gives me the feeling that I haven’t slept properly.

But that’s not all. I feel heavier and heavier and I’m struggling to move.

I feel like I’ve suddenly gained an unnatural amount of weight. How did my body grow so fast?

While I’m confined in this awful place, I dream of all the things I don’t have: my mum, a free space to scratch, some clean and dry ground to take my sand baths, a place all to myself to be able to perch outdoors.

I look at my roommates and many of them are injured. Some have burns on their skin caused by the urine-soaked ground. Others seem resigned to not moving anymore and just stare into space.

It hurts me so much to see them suffer like this, but, like them, I am completely helpless and I begin to think that soon I will find myself in the same condition as them.

WEEK 3 (800 grams to 1.3 kilos)

I’m almost a kilo in weight! Each day as I get heavier, I get closer and closer to my end.  

I have already accumulated so much weight that I am finding it difficult to get off the ground. I can hardly get water and food. My legs don’t feel normal. Every time I want to drink or eat, it takes so much energy just to get off the floor.

The supply of water and food is completely automated and for some of the other chicks, this is the cause of their death.

The troughs and feeders are placed at a height that some chicks are unable to reach. They are deliberately deprived of water and food because they are considered too small to reach the necessary weight to be sold for meat.

My feet also begin to bend under the weight of my body. 

Some of my roommates get so sick that they are not even able to survive long enough to be slaughtered. This morning alone, I counted dozens of dead bodies.

Many collapse and never get up again. Their hearts suddenly stop.

I just saw one of my friends die like this. He collapsed to the ground. I approached him to give him a little affection and a little warmth, but it didn’t help.

We are in pain, but we are not receiving any veterinary care. I have heard that it is too expensive and that our lives are worth too little.

Week 4 (1.3 kilos to 1.8 kilos)

Many think I’m an unintelligent animal, but that’s not the case at all.

One of the things that I do particularly well is remember. I remember very clearly what I was like when I came out of the hatchery, just five weeks ago, and I can feel what I am now: much bigger. Too big.

My body is enormous, I can barely hold it up anymore.

And I see my body reflected in that of my roommates. They are monstrously large. They look like adult chickens, but they are actually still chicks struggling with their first month of life, just like me.

I don’t feel very well.

I’ve been fed drugs since I’ve been here.

Day after day my breathing becomes more and more laboured. I find it hard to move. My skeleton is no longer able to bear all this weight.

I often find myself unable to keep my balance and when I fall on my back it’s hard to get up.

If that wasn’t enough, the shed is getting hotter, smellier and more and more overcrowded as we’re growing so large. Now there is hardly any room to move.

By now I have lost hope of being able to see what the world is like outside. I feel like I will never leave here.

A few days ago, I looked around and thought about my situation.

I thought that the biggest problem I would face here was the harsh environment and I imagined that, if I could get outside the farm, I would feel better. I could warm myself in the sunlight, peck in a soft meadow and be caressed by the wind.

I was born in the most horrible of places, in the worst conditions imaginable. But now, in my sixth week, I realise that the real prison isn’t the shed I’m trapped in. It’s my body.

My chest has swollen monstrously. I find it really hard to balance and I spend most of my time frantically flapping and trying to get up.

I am exhausted. Even just breathing is tiring.

With a body like this, it is impossible to survive.

Many of my roommates have fallen to the ground and never got up again.

With the extra weight I’ve gained, it won’t be long until I’m slaughtered for human consumption.

FINAL WEEK (Final weight: 2.2 kilos)

I’ve taken you with me on this short journey: perhaps it was not an exciting adventure, I understand, but it is important, for me and for all of the others trapped here to know that someone outside the shed knows the truth.

This life and this body cause me so much pain.

Yet there is something deeply unfair: I survived all this hardship for nothing. I’ve endured all this pain just to come to a terrible end and finish up on someone’s plate?

And the last phase of my life is one of the most terrifying. A huge machine grabs us roughly by our fragile wings or legs, captures us and locks us in tiny cages. Then we are crammed into huge trucks and face a long journey without being able to drink or eat, in the midst of a deafening noise which frightens me.

They take us to a place where they pull us out of the cages to hang us painfully upside down. We are all panicking.

I won’t dwell on how bad it hurts me to be hung by my fragile feet and how impossible it is for me to breathe upside down, but I’m sure you can imagine it.

They tried to stun me with a bath of electrified water. I felt excruciating pain and indescribable fear. I think they wanted to knock me out, but I pulled my head away from the water at the last minute and so they didn’t quite succeed. I just feel a fogginess which prevents me from thinking clearly.

I am very confused right now. I feel my time is approaching.

I know I am ‘just’ a chicken. I understand the life of a chicken like me might not interest anyone. 

I hope I haven’t bored you with my story.

Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I hope you will take my story with you and remember me.