SPCA supports housing systems that provide chickens with choices to allow them to meet their physical, health and behavioural needs.
SPCA is concerned about the conditions in which meat chickens live. SPCA advocates that all chickens farmed for meat should be reared in free range systems with unrestricted access to an outdoor area for at least 8 hours per day (unless acting under written veterinary guidance) with appropriate, well-maintained ground and vegetative cover and suitable artificial and natural shelters that protects them from the elements and overhead predators.
Within the main housing, environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, ammonia and dust levels must be controlled, and good litter quality and proper ventilation must be maintained to ensure the health and comfort of the chickens at all times. The farm environment must include effective and suitable enrichment material that allow for a range of species-specific behaviours such as scratching, foraging, pecking, dust-bathing, and perching. Chickens must be provided with space that allows them to move freely, turn around completely and perform natural behaviours such as preening, wing flapping, and stretching. Chickens should never be kept in continuous or near continuous light or dark.
SPCA opposes the selection of meat chickens for accelerated growth rates which result in the inhibition of normal activity, cause metabolic or skeletal defects, chronic lameness and pain, increased mortality or other welfare problems.
SPCA advocates for the use of breeds of meat chicken with low levels of lameness and cardiovascular problems in order to improve the welfare of chickens used commercially for meat production. SPCA advocates for the use of broiler breeders (parents of broiler meat chickens), where birds are able to walk around without difficulty and maintain their health and reproductive fitness without feed restrictions. SPCA opposes the use of commercial breeds where food restriction throughout production is necessary for broiler breeders
(Broiler breeder birds are the parent stock of the broiler meat chickens used for production purposes)
SPCA supports free range farming systems which allow meat chickens appropriate space allowance inside the shed to allow them the opportunity to perform natural behaviours.
SPCA advocates for the recommended best practice stocking density of 30kg/m2 for all meat chicken production systems, rather than the 38 30kg/m2 currently allowed for.
SPCA opposes the practice of thinning of chickens.
Where thinning is conducted, segregated thinning must be used to minimise stress to the remaining chickens. Thinning (where a proportion of the meat chicken population is removed for slaughter at a lower weight to control the stocking density) is known to have negative welfare and health implications for the remaining birds.
SPCA opposes the handling and catching of chickens that causes harm or distress.
SPCA advocates that meat chickens should be carried around the body and kept upright, and must be handled humanely at all times. Prior to depopulation, meat chickens should be caught efficiently and in blue light (or other proven suitable dark lighting conditions) to minimise stress. Our organisation acknowledges that inverting birds and carrying them by both legs is the industry’s common method for handling chickens, however SPCA advocates for the development and widespread application of more humane methods of handling chickens, both layers and meat chickens, across the industry.
(see Handling for more details)