With shrinking pieces of land, increasing human population and demand for meat, the quest for profits and rising costs of inputs, farmers are finding themselves driven into more intensive chicken rearing systems. Such systems tend to overlook chicken welfare denying them an environment for them to exhibit natural behaviors like foraging, pecking, and perching.
Chicken are kept in overcrowded often dirty conditions throughout their lives, and these birds never get to see daylight or enjoy the sun. Some are even disposed to the market when they are lame from injuries caused by congestion and diseases from the filthy environment they are kept in.
Is such chicken meat healthy for people to consume? And, is such cruelty to chicken justified, whatever the pursuit? Unfortunately, apart from the physical conditions of the birds, like injuries, diseases, and lameness, it is difficult for consumers to tell whether the birds are reared in caged or free-range systems.
It takes the commitment of farmers to sound animal welfare practices.
Space for the chicken to interact freely
Give birds space to move, exercise, and interact freely. Confining birds in small spaces causes stress, which may lead to aggressive behavior and raises their susceptibility to diseases. If you must keep chicken indoors then make provisions for more space per bird. A bird should be able to spread and flap wings without causing other chicken discomfort.
In addition, chickens prefer to lay eggs in a place different from the feeding and resting areas. An awareness of this on the part of the farmer ensures that the necessary space and facility like a laying nest are made available and easily accessible to the chicken, away from other birds that may cause disturbance.
Chicken love perching
Given an option, chickens naturally choose to rest on perches than on the ground. It is natural bird behavior. Make for your chicken places where they can perch, anything about 1.5 meters depending on the height of the chicken house, and about 3 inches thick to make it comfortable for the chicken to rest their feet.
Allow chicken access to an outdoor space
Ever seen chickens running, even attempting to spread their wings and fly when they are let out of their housing into open space? That is a sign of how much they enjoy the freedom of the open space where they can interact with the natural environment. Caged systems do not afford birds this kind of luxury. Free-range systems provide chicken with opportunities to forage for food, including insects which are a source of proteins, ingest small pieces of rock or grit that aids in digestion by grinding grains in the gizzard and other foods that the chicken eats.
Chicken also eat grass and leafy herbage through which they get vitamins that contribute to strong immunity that prevents diseases or better coping and quick recovery in case of infection. Again, the farmer can provide this green matter to the birds in their feeding places but it would be good for the chicken to forage and make their choice of what green material to eat. Without these, the farmer is exposing the chicken to unhealthy lives.
If the farmer doesn’t have enough space for free-range rearing then at least make sure there is space for the chicken to run around and play under direct sunlight and fresh outdoor air, and bath on the soil dust. This is healthy for the chicken as it helps them keep away lice, mites, and other external parasites.
The mere absence of cages doesn’t guarantee improved welfare for chickens. The caged could be removed but the birds are still overcrowded and uncomfortable. The quest should be real freedom for the chicken.
When you take care of the welfare of chickens, they are healthier and more productive, and the meat and eggs are healthier too. Therefore, consumers, buy from farmers who rear their chicken in conditions free of cruelty.