Meat chickens (also known as broilers) are bred to grow and gain weight very rapidly. They have been genetically selected to produce large breast muscle and will grow to slaughter weight in 35 days.
Most meat chickens are farmed indoors, in conventional systems that may house up to 60,000 birds in a single shed. Chickens may be kept in dim light for 23 hours a day to discourage movement and increase food intake, which basically makes them very meaty very quickly. The majority of meat chickens in Australia live in barren environments with no possibility for behavioural stimulation.
Chickens in these systems can suffer some serious problems, including:
- leg problems, including lameness and bone breakages
- heart and eye abnormalities
- feet and hock burns
- breast blisters.
It is possible to farm meat chickens humanely but it is complex and depends on every stage from birth to slaughter being managed very carefully. The RSPCA has developed standards to guide this process.
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme - meat chicken standards
As part of our Approved Farming Scheme, the RSPCA has developed standards to drive the humane production of meat chickens. RSPCA Approved chicken is now available.
Unlike most conventional systems, chicken welfare is central to the RSPCA meat chicken standards.
Maintaining appropriate housing conditions by managing temperature, humidity, ventilation and lighting are key to ensuring good welfare for meat chickens.
RSPCA Approved meat chicken farms will be assessed regularly. Birds will be monitored for leg weakness and other signs of poor welfare. RSPCA Approved farms will not use antibiotics routinely for preventative purposes.
Meat chickens will be provided with straw bales to peck and perch on; birds will have a longer dark period so they can rest properly and they will have space to move freely. On a free-range farm, chickens will have easy access to the outdoors during daylight hours.
All people involved in the transport and handling of birds must be trained and competent. With transport and pre-slaughter being the most stressful part of a bird's life, RSPCA assessors will regularly monitor these final stages of meat chicken production to ensure bird welfare is not compromised. Processing plants are also inspected and approved by the RSPCA.
- Find RSPCA Approved chicken near you
- More information on meat chicken production in Australia
- Find out more about Humane Food
- Shop Humane
Did you know?
- 461 million meat chickens are produced in Australia every year.
- The average Australian eats around 36kg of chicken meat annually.
- Chickens are smart and sociable. They have well developed brains and, in their natural environment, live in complex social hierarchies.
- Meat chickens and layer hens are two different breeds of bird bred for two very different purposes.
- Layer hens are generally much more active than meat chickens so need a lot more space.
- Meat chickens aren't kept in cages - they are raised in large indoor sheds or are free range.
- A meat chicken can be ready for slaughter as early as 35 days old.