Over one billion broiler chickens are slaughtered for their meat in the UK, every year. Demand for cheap chicken is so high that broilers outnumber all other land-based farmed animals combined by a staggering rate of more than four to one. Around 95 per cent of chickens are intensively reared on factory farms. In allowing producers to control every aspect of the birds’ environment, these farms can churn out hundreds of thousands of slaughter-weight chickens every seven to eight weeks (including an average one-week clean-out period between cycles).
The UK is the third-biggest overall chicken meat producer in Europe, with a supply chain dominated by a handful of private businesses. As part of our End Factory Farming campaign, we investigated three Red Tractor-assured farms, contracted by Britain’s largest poultry producers – Avara Foods, Hook2Sisters and Moy Park – which supply major supermarkets and best-known brands, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and KFC.
More images from the investigation can also be publicly viewed on Flickr.
Read The Independent Exclusive
Across the beautiful British countryside an increasing number of industrial-scale chicken farms are appearing, rearing birds in abhorrent conditions for our country’s leading supermarkets, restaurants and food outlets. From birth to death in just five to seven weeks, these factory farms are not only causing misery and suffering to millions of birds each week, but they are also posing a grave risk to public health and threatening our environment.
End Factory Farming
Haywood Poultry Unit is one of around 300 farms contracted to Avara Foods. As the third-largest poultry producer in the UK they slaughter approximately four and a half million birds a week.
Footage captured by our investigators shows around 30,000 birds crammed into one of 15 sheds, scrambling over each other – desperate for space. Abnormally large birds, at 38-days old, were seen collapsing, their legs too weak to hold their grotesquely overweight bodies. Birds which collapse like this are often unable to access food or water points, and as a result die from starvation or dehydration.
Dead birds were also found trodden into the ground and covered with litter, which appear to have been left for some time. Given the sheer number of birds in the shed and only two brief ‘welfare checks’ a day required to meet minimum standards, this is hardly surprising. Common causes of death on intensive farms like Haywood are heart attacks and respiratory distress, brought on by the birds’ rapid growth.
Churchinford Farm is one of around 380 farms contracted to Hook2Sisters. The 2 Sisters Food Group is the largest poultry producer in Europe, slaughtering just over six million birds in the UK every week.
Investigators discovered dead and decaying birds inside the shed – some of which were being pecked by others due to a lack of adequate environmental enrichment. Feather-pecking is a condition whereby birds continually peck each other due to boredom or frustration. At Churchinford Farm, a small piece of a wood on a chain was provided as a means of environmental enrichment – a wholly inadequate interpretation of the government’s Code of Practice for the Welfare of Meat Chickens.
Numerous birds were also found collapsed on the ammonia-rich litter that covers the shed floor with painful hock burns marking their raw skin. Others were found with what appeared to be respiratory problems, collapsed and panting heavily – another example of the severe health issues caused by factory farming conditions.
Overbrook Farm is one of around 800 farms contracted to Moy Park. They are owned by Pilgrim’s Pride, an American company majority-owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS, who have been repeatedly accused of being directly responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. In the UK, Moy Park slaughter about six million birds every week.
Evidence captured at Overbrook Farm revealed a high number of bald birds, most likely a result of their stressful environment and aggressive feather–pecking. Similarly, to the other farms featured in this investigation, the footage taken from this site shows countless dead birds, left to rot amongst the living.
“This investigation footage is highly disturbing and animals are clearly suffering on these farms.
I am concerned to see examples of cannibalism, feather-pecking and birds suffering severe feather-loss. These issues are commonplace in factory farms where birds live in cramped, overcrowded conditions which cause anxiety and stress.
The footage shows birds collapsed, struggling to walk and with splayed legs. These conditions are usually as result of the bird’s inability to carry their own bodyweight. Broiler chickens are selectively bred to speed up growth. They often struggle to walk due to severe lameness and excessive body weight.”
– Professor Andrew Knight (veterinary expert)
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Industrial mega-farms are on the rise due to an insatiable demand for cheap chicken. They’re bad for the animals, our health and the planet. It’s time to End Factory Farming Before It Ends Us.
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