Chicken Welfare Facts: How American Farmers Care for Their Birds
American farmers are dedicated to raising the healthiest chickens. Keeping flocks free of fear, pain, stress and suffering is, plain and simple, the right thing to do. And it’s a fact that when chickens are treated right, they grow better, too.
That’s why the U.S. chicken industry developed the Chicken Guarantees, a set of welfare standards that serve as a benchmark for the broiler chicken (chicken raised for meat) industry. Broiler chickens are raised by farmers trained in animal welfare and under the care of licensed veterinarians. Read on to find out how chickens grow big and strong (spoiler: it’s not hormones or steroids!), where chickens live on the farm and how chicken producers care for the birds.
Keeping Chickens Safe on the Farm
Farmers play one of the biggest roles in food safety by protecting chickens from diseases, predators and pests. On a farm, all visitors are required to wear biosecure suits and personal protective equipment to make sure that no bacteria or other foreign materials enter the chicken house.
Farmers also conduct a health and safety measure known as “windrowing”. That means before a new flock arrives, chicken farmers heat up the poultry litter to kill any bacteria.
Raising Chickens in Growout Houses
In the U.S., most broilers live in large, open structures called “growout houses“. The chickens are free to walk around, get food and drink water. Not only is adequate space for each bird a basic welfare requirement, but it is also in the farmers’ best business interests for their birds to have space to grow and go to market. In the U.S., broilers are not raised in cages.
You know what they say about “birds of a feather”. By nature, chickens prefer to flock together. This can give the impression that the birds are crowded, when in fact they’re just following their natural instincts.
See what a Day in the Life on an American Chicken Farm looks like.
Feeding Chicken Tailored, Nutritious Diets
You might be surprised to learn that there are no hormones used in U.S. chicken production. In fact, the U.S. government has banned the use of hormones and steroids in poultry since the 1950s. That means no hormones, no steroids—none added ever.
So, if hormones aren’t the cause, why are chickens so plump? Chickens are larger today for several reasons. One of those reasons is optimal nutrition—a tailored diet for every stage of the chicken’s life. Broilers eat a base diet of corn and soybean meal. Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are adjusted in the feed according to the flock’s age and nutritional requirements.
Today’s birds are also given top-notch veterinary care and optimal living conditions. But perhaps most importantly, the chicken industry has modernized the science of traditional chicken breeding. Over the years, breeders have selected chickens with the healthiest genetic traits, like leg strength, heart health, and so on, to help future generations get the best start possible. Smart breeding is the key to broiler chickens growing healthy and strong.
Always Caring for the Birds
Taking care of chickens is what farmers and processors do. That’s why the National Chicken Council developed our Broiler Welfare Guidelines and Audit Checklists, which provide science-based recommendations for proper treatment at every phase of a chicken’s life. The Audit Checklists are certified by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO). These guidelines are reviewed every 2 years, so we’re always using the latest chicken science and technology to ensure that chickens nationwide are growing healthy and strong.