All of these survivors are Cornish cross chickens: the most common breed slaughtered for food. (They make up more than 9 of the 10 billion land animals slaughtered in the U.S. each year.) Though chickens can live up to eight years or more, most are killed within 47 days once they reach a “slaughter” weight of six pounds or more. (That’s not to mention the egg industry, which kills baby boys on the day they hatch because they won’t lay eggs.) In comparison, chickens raised in 1970 attained half that weight in ten weeks’ time.
This rapid and unnatural growth places enormous strain on these young animals’ bodies. Many become too heavy to fly. They develop conditions generally seen in geriatric birds—heart disease, respiratory failure, and skeletal damage. Their excessive weight overcrowds their organs and crushes their limbs. Their bodies simply give out.
Their quality of life suffers too. Chickens are natural explorers: They love scratching through grassy fields, dust bathing in the soil, and warming their feathers in the sun. However, most never even get to venture outside. (A note: euphemizing terms like “free-range” and “organic” do not guarantee chickens receive humane treatment. They’re unregulated labels aimed to target consumers who think they’re paying for better care. Learn more about “humane” labels.)
Instead, most chickens come from factory farms: massive windowless buildings, each packed with up to 30,000 overstressed and overgrown birds. Individualized care is nonexistent: There are simply too many animals in one place, so those who need extra help often slip through the cracks.