How Can We Help Chickens and Other Farmed Animals?
By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns
Baby rooster in transport crate on the way to being slaughtered seeks comfort.
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals
The following points were made in an Interview I did this month with a student at the University of Minnesota for her research project on factory farms. Her questions are implicit in my answers. – Karen Davis
- There are many ways to make the public aware of the suffering and abuse taking place inside factory farms. The internet has a lot of undercover investigative footage including on Facebook sites and organizational websites. See, for example, Videos & Presentations. At the University of California in Berkeley, we periodically set up Pay-Per-View video stations where we pay each student one dollar to view scenes of animal suffering and abuse on the farms and in the slaughterhouses: chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, ducks and others, as well as fish. We also leaflet our brochures to people on the street and take advantage of opportunities to start or expand a conversation about how animals live and die in these terrible places.
The impression that chickens, turkeys and other “poultry”
are not intelligent enough to deserve respect is mistaken. Not only is
there plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, including from
sanctuaries such as ours in Virginia, and Chicken Run Rescue in Minnesota;
modern cognitive animal science shows that these birds are as intelligent
and sensitive as other animals, including mammals.
Animal scientist Lesley J. Rogers, in The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken, provides detailed documentation of the cognitive complexity of chickens. My own books, including Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs; More Than a Meal: the Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; and For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation, contain well-documented information about the intelligence and emotional repertoire of chickens, turkeys, ducks and other “poultry.” See our webpage Thinking Like a Chicken for the many articles we’ve posted on intelligence and emotional complexity in these birds.
I will also point out that, ethically, the degree of intelligence, to the extent it can be determined, should not be a factor in how we treat any creature of any species. All creatures have sensitivity to what they need and to what is happening to them, for better or worse. There are plenty of human beings who are not very intelligent, but that is no reason to mistreat them.
- Ag-Gag legislation has not significantly affected United Poultry Concerns except insofar as the legislation has prevented undercover information from being obtained that might otherwise have been available. We do not normally conduct these types of investigations, although we have openly visited several farms and a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse and gotten a great deal of information from these visits. One thing we’ve learned from our own and other investigations of “cage-free” operations and the like is how fraudulent the claims of “humane” treatment typically are. See, for example, Free Range.
Factory farming provides enormous quantities of animal products and
plant produce cheaply. The only way billions of people can have endless
quantities of animal flesh, mammary products (dairy), and eggs is to raise
the animals in vast numbers, in squalid confinement facilities. Prices can
be kept low only if the scale of production is huge, so from that
standpoint, factory farming is an integral part of the U.S. and global
economy, the same as mass production of clothes, cosmetics and other retail
However, the economy does not need animal factory farms because people do not need to eat animal products in order to be healthy. Human health and environmental health benefit from a nutritious plant-based diet and vegan economy. If people stopped consuming animal products, the economy would simply shift to providing all the plant-based products people would be consuming instead. Indeed, we are seeing a rapid growth of animal-free, vegan foods in the marketplace. Just because people stop eating animal products doesn’t mean we stop eating!
In my view, all forms of animal farming are factory farming, since
animals raised and killed for human food are viewed and treated as
commodities rather than as individuals in their own right. If, for example,
they aren’t growing fast or big enough, or producing enough milk or
eggs, the farmer kills them or sends them off to the slaughterhouse. The
animals are completely under the control of their owner – the farmer
or corporation, which is the essence of all forms of slavery and
While we should do what we can to alleviate the worst cruelties inherent in animal farming, we need to understand that little can actually be done to reform this type of enterprise. The billions of chickens and other animals, including aquatic animals. are simply too vast, and animal farming is a global operation with no real oversight or government interest in oversight. In the capitalist farming economy, the animals are objects who exist only to make money and be consumed. The only true solution is to wean people from animal products and grow the vegan economy. See: Life Can Be Beautiful.
For more information, please see:
- Assuming Chickens Suffer Less than Pigs is Idle Speciesism
- Turkeys: Sympathy, Sensibility, and Sentience.
- Chickens are Courageous Birds. They are NOT Cowards, or a Trope for Human Cowardice
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl (Lantern Books, 2019).