|From Poultry Press Fall 2008, Volume 18, Number 3
Why Chickens and Turkeys Bred for Meat Production are Lame and in Pain
“Genetic selection of broiler chickens for rapid growth and gross hypertrophy of the breast muscle has created problems of ‘leg weakness’ in the heavy, fastest-growing strains. ‘Leg weakness’ is a euphemism used to describe a long and depressing list of pathological conditions of bones, joints, tendons, and skin [ulcerated skin caused by the ammonia-soaked bedding the birds are forced to sit in]. Similar problems are seen in the heavy strains of turkeys.” – Dr. John Webster, A Cool Eye Towards Eden, p. 156
According to Dr. John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science, while the causes of painful leg disorders in broiler chickens and turkeys are complex, “most of the conditions can be attributed, in simple terms, to birds that have grown too heavy for their limbs and/or become so distorted in shape as to impose unnatural stresses on their joints.” A study published in 2008 notes that in the past 50 years, the growth rate of chickens has increased “by over 300 percent,” resulting in “impaired locomotion and poor leg health.” Most chickens raised for meat are slaughtered as 6 to 7 week old babies, even though a chicken’s skeleton is not fully developed even by 10 weeks of age. At 6 weeks old, only 85 percent of the chicken’s skeletal frame has been formed, yet that frame is forced to support many times the amount of weight of a normal chicken, as noted in Bell & Weaver, Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, pp. 630, 996.
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