Chicken breeds are chosen for the characteristics that maximize profits–at the expense of the birds’ welfare. The hens used for egg production are laying hens, and broilers chickens are raised for meat. Laying hens will be slaughtered for pet food or for processed foods like chicken soup, while broilers are the chickens sold in supermarkets and restaurants in unprocessed form.
The National Chicken Council has a web page where they report that, in every year from 2006 to 2011, the market weight of the birds has gone up, and the mortality rate has gone down. The average weight has doubled since 1940, reaching 5.8 pounds in 2011. Then they quit reporting the numbers. It could be that the mortality trend has reversed, and that that’s why they stopped the annual updates. Perhaps the increasing weight of the birds got to the point where it became too great a detriment to the birds’ health for them to continue to have reductions in mortality. That sounds very plausible to me, but of course it’s pure conjecture. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to updating the page. I emailed them at their general address, asking that they do so, and they didn’t reply (or update the page). It could be that they get a lot of emails and can’t attend to them all, so I emailed them again, this time to four relevant email addresses, and I included a link to this post. The subject line should have gotten their attention: Blog Post Criticizing Your Statistics. I invited them to post a comment, and got no response.
(I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so let’s set aside questions about the character of people who would defend and promote raising animals genetically doomed to misery in an environment that doesn’t support their welfare beyond the minimums necessary for profitability, and assume that the numbers reported by the National Chicken Council on their website accurately report the data they collect. But I have to ask, wouldn’t people who make money directly by the means described below (which is to say, factory farmers) be inclined to, shall we say, be less than forthcoming about mortality rates? Is it not a reasonable supposition that the numbers of dead reported are under-counted? And I wonder about the numbers of birds that are sick or injured when they reach the slaughterhouse. Why doesn’t the Chicken Council collect that data and report those numbers?)