A child raised to weigh 500 pounds by age 10?

It is reasonable to expect an average 10-year old child to weigh about 80 pounds. What if someone willfully raised a child to weigh over 500 pounds by her 10th birthday?

Would it bother you if they imposed energy-dense foods, sugary drinks and dozens of growth-promoting drugs on her throughout her childhood so that she stays on pace to reach 500 pounds by age 10? Would the health consequences of her unusually rapid weight gain stir your conscience enough to speak up for her? Would you consider it morally gross to intentionally raise a child to weigh well over six times her natural weight?

As a matter of fact, by the way, we do raise the chickens we eat to weigh well over six times their natural weight. Take a look; it takes less than 30 seconds to watch the animation below in its entirety.

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The average age and the average live weight of chickens at slaughter since 1920. Data sources include USDA Poultry Slaughter Reports, National Chicken Council, Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production (2002) and Handbook of Poultry and Egg Statistics (1937).

In 1920, a chicken raised for meat was slaughtered at the age of about 112 days (less than 4 months) when he weighed about 2.2 pounds.

Since then, factory farming of chickens has continued a gradual but inexorable rise. With each new decade, chickens were fattened up faster and slaughtered earlier with little regard to the suffering of the chickens.

Sources cited
  1. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service. Poultry Slaughter, 2013. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  2. National Chicken Council. U.S. Broiler Performance, 2011. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  3. P. W. Aho. Introduction to the US Chicken Meat Industry in Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, edited by D. D. Bell and W. D. Weaver Jr., 2002. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  4. USDA, Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Handbook of Poultry and Egg Statistics, 1937. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)

By 1950, a chicken was fattened up to weigh an average of over 3 pounds in just 70 days, the average age at which he would be slaughtered for his meat.

By 2000, the average chicken raised for his meat grew to weigh over 5 pounds by the time he was slaughtered at the age of 47 days.

Today, in 2013, we fatten them up even faster to weigh 5.89 pounds in just 47 days. Then, we slaughter them.

Even in 1920, chickens used for their meat were likely fattened up as fast as allowed by the know-how at the time. The natural weight of a chicken at 112 days of age, therefore, is no more than 2.2 pounds.

According to the Handbook of Poultry and Egg Statistics, published in 1937, the growth of a chicken during those times was approximately linear. This means that a 47-day old chicken in 1920 weighed approximately 2.2 × 47 ÷ 112 ≈ 0.923 pounds.

According to the USDA Poultry Slaughter reports, the average weight at slaughter in the first seven months of 2013 (January to July) was 5.89 pounds. Slaughtered at 47 days of age, these modern chickens weigh 5.89 ÷ 0.923 ≈ 6.38 times their 1920 counterparts.

Yes, chickens today are bred and fed and drugged to weigh over 6.38 times their natural weight!

Sources cited
  1. T. G. Knowles, et al. Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prevention. PloS ONE, February 2008. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  2. N. C. Rath, et al. Factors Regulating Bone Maturity and Strength in Poultry. Poultry Science 79(7), July 2000. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  3. David Kirby. Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, 2011. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)
  4. F. Manjoo. Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out. Slate.com, 2012. (link, accessed Sep. 8, 2013)

To gain a faint idea of the large magnitude of this number when discussed in relation to body weight, imagine yourself weighing 6.38 times your natural weight. Suppose you are an adult female with a natural weight of 130 pounds, imagine yourself weighing over 800 pounds instead! Suppose you are an adult male with a natural weight of 160 pounds, imagine yourself weighing over 1,000 pounds instead!

Subjected to intense genetic selection, the chickens we eat possess traits optimized for producing meat at a low cost but at the expense of increased suffering endured by the birds. Accelerated growth rates of chickens today, compared to their ancestors, have led to increased skeletal disorders usually expressed as painful lameness and twisted legs that are bowed in or out. Their young soft bones fail to develop and mature in pace with their overgrown bodies and fracture easily during catching and transportation, likely causing intense pain and suffering.

Even without deformed or fractured bones, the chickens show signs of being sick and uncomfortable all the time under the excessive physical load of their bodies, often unable to even move without severe pain. According to Carole Morison, a chicken farmer quoted in Animal Factory, “after about five weeks, they are just too darn big to walk or even get up. So they just sit there.”

Drugged on growth-promoting antibiotics and bred to grow beyond what their legs can support, the chickens we eat are grotesque creatures of our own making. When animal advocates promote vegan alternatives to chicken meat, every once in a while someone chimes in a note of displeasure about how they are not quite as natural as real chicken. But, there is little left in the chickens we eat today that is natural.

No, wait ... there is at least one thing natural still left in a chicken raised in our factory farms today—she is as capable of suffering as you and I.

Comments

Stacy

From having once suffered a broken bone, and all the tissue damage and inflammation that comes with it, I can just imagine how much it must hurt the chickens when their weak bones break during handling. How they are thrown into containers for transportation is totally sickening.

Paul Shapiro

Very potent graphic and blog, Harish. Really illustrates how these birds have been bred to suffer.

Spike

At 47 days old, the chickens are just babies and the increase in weight, especially since 1990, is unbelievable. The industry must consider this "progress". I think it's despicable.

Gracia Ellwood

This fits with calling an animal "It" while she or he is still alive. A matter of pretending she is a mere thing. Pretending doesn't make for reality, only, in a case like this, for suffering in the animal, and often illness in the person who eats her or his body.

Jack Norris

Another great post, Harish! Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Mikael Nielsen

Thanks Harish! Great stuff, as usual!

Becki Markle

This is very captivating! If anyone is interesting in checking out what this looks like, take a look at MeatVideo.com.

Rachael

Great post, thank you.

John Oberg

Fascinating -- thanks for once again improving our perspective as animal advocates!

Peter Piper

There is nothing better than a free range, organically fed chicken.
Don't buy factory farmed caged ones.

Jon Camp

Poignant and thoughtful piece, Harish.

Mitch Marder

Vegan, Vegan, Vegan! Wait did I forget to say Vegan? At least be vegetarian. Buying farmed animals is the problem. Nip this and force these crazy capitalists out of business. They have no regard for these poor animals that are forced to suffer so their bottom line is higher.

Bea Elliott

Excellent graphics and well researched information as usual! Truly these birds are regarded as machines. And at what cost to human health as well?

I know this piece focuses on the 8+ billion victims of this brutal industry... May I offer a look at just one of the casualties - My lovely Liz:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y21h9x6FKI

Thanks for all you continue to do.

Lewis Bollard

Thanks Harish. That's powerful stuff.

Lucy

Great post. Thanks as always for giving us a different, yet extremely thought-provoking perspective.

James

Though surely this is preferable to 6.38 times the number of chickens dying to provide the same amount of meat?

Using the statistic of 8 billion chickens provided by a fellow commenter, and though not all those chickens would be grown to such preposterous sizes, but a hypothetical 48 billion 'normal' sized chickens to be killed for meat instead of the 8 billion fatties?

Sorry to play devil's advocate, but I couldn't resist.

Harish

James: You raise a good point. Yes, if we didn't grow chickens in this appalling manner and assuming how many pounds of them we eat remained the same, we would be killing 6.38 times as many of the 'normal'-size or natural-size chickens. But, these chickens would suffer far less during their life than the chickens we eat today.

The question is really about killing fewer animals versus reducing the sum total of suffering. There is much debate over this philosophical question, but it is an unnecessary distraction since we neither have to cause suffering nor kill. Not eating chickens is the obvious simple answer.

Sheeshus

Horrible and sickening. Also makes you wonder if this has contributed to weight gain in people - the hormones possibly because they could still be in the meat and the portion size distortion. Terrible. You would think this would convince some people even if they did not have a conscience about it.

Karen

Thank you for the hours of research you combine with your humanity to create yet another vitally important post. The facts are horrific and you have the ability to make them relevant to us. Must admit, it had me in tears. I am so glad I'm vegan!

Wtf

Wtf

Shannon Kimball

Wow, keep up the good work! It makes our advocacy a little easier.

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