12 October 2021

A new study has been released showing the associations between behaviour and health outcomes in conventional and slow-growing breeds of meat chickens.

Selection for fast growth rates has led to significant welfare concerns, such as leg issues and metabolic conditions, in meat chickens.

In addition to this, birds may be at risk of having their welfare compromised during handling, depopulation, transportation and at slaughter. 

New research out of the UK comparing traditional fast growing meat chicken breeds with slower growing breeds found faster growing chickens to have better performance but worse health and welfare outcomes. They also found chickens’ behaviour to be associated with their overall health, concluding that considering behaviour is essential when conducting meat chicken welfare assessments.

One Australian producer has been able to import slower-growing genetics into the country. These chickens are farmed to RSPCA Approved Standards for Coles Slow Hills – Australia’s first slow-growing chicken. The RSPCA is working to address meat chicken welfare issues by raising standards on farm through the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme and by advocating for better legislated minimum standards for all poultry on farm, during transport, and at slaughter.

To reduce incidences of lameness and poor welfare outcomes as a result of bird genetics, meat chickens on RSPCA Approved farms are encouraged to be active. They have access to perches, quality litter covering the floor and better lighting requirements. On RSPCA Approved farms, meat chicken producers are also required to observe their birds at least three times a day for any changes in behaviour so that any issues identified can be addressed as soon as possible.

The significant extent to which the meat chicken industry has implemented the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standard for meat chickens is clear evidence of the considerable progress that has been made in recent years to improve animal welfare. To read more about the RSPCA’s views on the challenges and priorities in meat chicken production, see here.