According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry meat, and 68 percent of eggs are produced in ways that are described as 'intensive'.One alternative to intensive poultry farming is free-range farming, however, this method of husbandry also uses large flock sizes in high stocking densities. Friction between supporters of these two main methods of poultry farming has led to long-term issues of ethical consumerism. Opponents of intensive farming argue that it harms the environment and creates health risks, as well as abusing the animals. Advocates of intensive farming say that their highly efficient systems save land and food resources due to increased productivity, stating that the animals are looked after in state-of-the-art environmentally controlled facilities.
The most intensive poultry farming methods are very efficient and allow meat and eggs to be available to the consumer in all seasons at a lower cost than free-range production. Poultry producers routinely use nationally approved medications, such as antibiotics, in feed or drinking water, to treat disease or to prevent disease outbreaks. Some FDA-approved medications are also approved for improved feed utilization. Egg-laying chickens - husbandry systems:-Commercial hens usually begin laying eggs at 16–20 weeks of age, although production gradually declines soon after from approximately 25 weeks of age.
This means that in many countries, by approximately 72 weeks of age, flocks are considered economically unviable and are slaughtered after approximately 12 months of egg production, although chickens will naturally live for 6 or more years. In some countries, hens are force moulted to re-invigorate egg-laying. Environmental conditions are often automatically controlled in egg-laying systems. For example, the duration of the light phase is initially increased to prompt the beginning of egg-laying at 16–20 weeks of age and then mimics summer daylength which stimulates the hens to continue laying all year round; normally, egg production occurs only in the warmer months. Some commercial breeds of hen can produce over 300 eggs a year. Critics argue that year-round egg production stresses the birds more than normal seasonal production.The benefits of free-range poultry farming for laying hens include opportunities for natural behaviours such as pecking, scratching, foraging and exercise outdoors. Free-range farming has come under criticism concerning animal welfare.
Organic laying hens
In organic egg-laying systems, chickens are also free-range. Organic systems are based upon restrictions on the routine use of synthetic yolk colourants, in-feed or in-water medications, other food additives and synthetic amino acids, and a lower stocking density and smaller group sizes. The Soil Association standards used to certify organic flocks in the UK, indicate a maximum outdoors stocking density of 1,000 birds per hectare and a maximum of 2,000 hens in each poultry house. In the UK, organic laying hens are not routinely beak-trimmed. Ducks and other poultry:-While often confused with free-range farming, yarding is actually a separate method of poultry culture by which chickens and cows are raised together. The distinction is that free-range poultry are either totally unfenced, or the fence is so distant that it has little influence on their freedom of movement. Yarding is common technique used by small farms in the Northeastern US. The birds are released daily from hutches or coops.
The hens usually lay eggs either on the floor of the coop or in baskets if provided by the farmer. This husbandry technique can be complicated if used with roosters, mostly because of aggressive behaviour. Indoor broilers:-Meat chickens, commonly called broilers, are floor-raised on litter such as wood shavings or rice hulls, indoors in climate-controlled housing. Under modern farming methods, meat chickens reared indoors reach slaughter weight at 5 to 6 weeks of age. Broilers are not raised in cages. They are raised in large, open structures known as growout houses. These houses are equipped with mechanical systems to deliver feed and water to the birds. They have ventilation systems and heaters that function as needed. The floor of the house is covered with bedding material consisting of wood chips, rice hulls, or peanut shells. Because dry bedding helps maintain flock health, most growout houses have enclosed watering systems (“nipple drinkers”) which reduce spillage. Keeping birds inside a house protects them from predators such as hawks and foxes. Some houses are equipped with curtain walls, which can be rolled up in good weather to admit natural light and fresh air. Most growout houses built in recent years feature “tunnel ventilation,” in which a bank of fans draws fresh air through the house. Traditionally, a flock of broilers consist of about 20,000 birds in a growout house that measures 400 feet long and 40 feet wide, thus providing about eight-tenths of a square foot per bird. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) states that the minimum space is one-half square foot per bird. More modern houses are often larger and contain more birds, but the floor space allotment still meets the needs of the birds. Because broilers are relatively young and have not reached sexual maturity, they exhibit very little aggressive conduct. Chicken feed consists primarily of corn and soybean meal with the addition of essential vitamins and minerals. No hormones or steroids are allowed in raising chickens. Issues with indoor husbandryIn intensive broiler sheds, the air can become highly polluted with ammonia from the droppings. This can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory systems and can cause painful burns on their legs (called hock burns) and feet.
Broilers bred for fast growth have a high rate of leg deformities because the large breast muscles causes distortions of the developing legs and pelvis, and the birds cannot support their increased body weight. Because they cannot move easily, the chickens are not able to adjust their environment to avoid heat, cold or dirt as they would in natural conditions. The added weight and overcrowding also puts a strain on their hearts and lungs and Ascites can develop. In the UK, up to 19 million broilers die in their sheds from heart failure each year. Indoor with higher welfareChickens are kept indoors but with more space (around 12 to 14 birds per square metre). They have a richer environment for example with natural light or straw bales that encourage foraging and perching. The chickens grow more slowly and live for up to two weeks longer than intensively farmed birds. The benefits of higher welfare indoor systems are the reduced growth rate, less crowding and more opportunities for natural behaviour. Free-range broilers Free-range broilers are reared under similar conditions to free-range egg laying hens. The breeds are more slower growing than those used for indoor rearing and usually reach slaughter weight at approximately 8 weeks of age. In the EU, each chicken must have one square metre of outdoor space. The benefits of free-range poultry farming include opportunities for natural behaviours such as pecking, scratching, foraging and exercise outdoors. Because they grow slower and have opportunities for exercise, free-range broilers often have better leg and heart health. Organic broilersOrganic broiler chickens are reared under similar conditions to free-range broilers but with restrictions on the routine use of in-feed or in-water medications, other food additives and synthetic amino acids. The breeds used are slower growing, more traditional breeds and typically reach slaughter weight at around 12 weeks of age. They have a larger space allowance outside (at least 2 square metres and sometimes up to 10 square metres per bird). The Soil Association standards indicate a maximum outdoors stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare and a maximum of 1,000 broilers per poultry house.Issues with poultry farming. Humane treatmentChickens transported in a truck.
Animal welfare groups have frequently criticized the poultry industry for engaging in practices which they believe to be inhumane. Many animal rightsadvocates object to killing chickens for food, the "factory farm conditions" under which they are raised, methods of transport