Chicken Meat: Cruel from start to finish Blog 6 March 2018

The recent severe winter weather has meant danger and death for new-born lambs born outdoors. But I’ve had the fate of broiler chickens on my mind – those with a death-date at a time when almost all roads, including motorways,  have been impassable.

A proportion of the 9.5 million chickens slaughtered annually in the UK would have been booked in for catching, transport and slaughter over the last few days.

Many broiler units have been set up in remote areas, unreachable by heavy vehicles, in snow and ice. You might well think the birds were lucky to be spared their fate, at least for a week or two. But that’s not how it is.

The modern chicken is relentlessly bred for fast growth. When slaughtered at 5 or 6 weeks of age, they’re already as heavy as a “natural” bird of twice that age. Though baby birds still, they’re so heavy and ungainly their limbs can barely support their weight. Any addition to their man-made ‘lifespan’ brings with it huge problems – heart failure being just one of them. So mortality can soar if “collection” date is only a week or two overdue.

Then there’s floor space: by the chosen slaughter date the floor of a broiler shed (holding around forty thousand birds) is wall-to-wall chickens. Give an extra week or more of growth and the numbers of birds unable to push their way to feed and water points will increase, as will mortality from starvation.

Meanwhile, we see devastated consumers on TV, filmed outside temporarily closed branches of KFC. We see disappointed children, totally ignorant of the suffering behind their favourite chicken “treats”. We know, from the huge sales of chicken in the UK and beyond, that the chicken industry is still winning hands down.

But let’s change all that.  Animals shouldn’t be ours to abuse.

Why not join a great, worldwide movement?  Go vegan!


Christmas Is Coming

CHICKENS’ LIB                      BLOG 5                    December 2017

IMG_0735 (1)

Photo courtesy of Academic Press Inc (London) Ltd.

I’m going to tell you a dark story – one you may not have heard before.

The photo above is of a male breeding turkey. Note how his legs are set at a grotesque angle. He’s a typical male breeding turkey. He’ll never fly, or even walk properly and will in all likelihood suffer from degenerative hip disease caused by his distorted conformation. And he certainly can’t mate naturally. But he’ll yield plenty of breast meat, between those straddled legs.

He looks like this because he’s been genetically selected by a ruthless global poultry industry for “meatiness” and maximum profit.

You’re maybe wondering how all the turkey meat on sale worldwide comes about, if mating is a problem. Good question.

Well that’s where the teams of artificial inseminators (AIs) move in.

Male breeding turkeys are kept separately from the females.

At least once a week, maybe more, the male birds are caught and roughly restrained by teams of AI operators.

Once the birds are helpless the AI operators manipulate the birds’ genitals until the penis protrudes and semen is ejaculated. The industry chooses to call this human-to-bird masturbation “stroking”.

Rough handling can lead to severe damage to the birds’ legs, ending in an inability to walk, and death. In addition, many male breeding turkeys suffer from long-term and painful hip degeneration.

After each session, the birds’ semen is stored at carefully controlled temperatures until needed.

Then what?

The semen must be forced into the vaginas of the female birds.

AI operators blow the semen into the birds’ vaginas through a tube. Often, internal bruising and more serious damage are inflicted at this time.

            Sounds Christmassy, doesn’t it? Or just right for Thanksgiving.

Please think about the suffering of the parent birds as well as the young ones, before you buy a turkey. And do take a look at Farm Sanctuary’s video of turkeys undergoing terror in the name of turkey meat.

This procedure is surely against the law, making a mockery of the legal obligation to protect farmed animals from suffering. When will this vile abuse of beautiful birds be challenged in a court of law?

Christmas is coming …



Photo Dave Clegg

Chickens’ Lib  BLOG NUMBER  4                                     November 2017

As I write, millions of turkeys are being fattened up for Christmas. Turkeys plastic-wrapped in chill cabinets or hanging limply in a butcher’s window may look identical. In fact, they are all individuals.

We in Chickens’ Lib found this out for ourselves when we gave a home to three turkeys. A colleague and I had gone to Chelford Market at Easter time, hoping to buy ex-battery hens. Of these there were none , but instead we came home with four turkeys. Though on sale for human consumption, the two males looked sickly.

A vet was called. He deemed one hopelessly ill and put him out of his misery there and then. The remaining male, Boyo, is pictured here. He proved to be of steady character, serious, but always seeming pleased to see us. He’d been over-bred so ruthlessly for “meatiness” that he literally could not step over obstacles no more than 5 cms high. For the rest of his life he shuffled around slowly, totally earthbound. Out of the two females one was bold and friendly, something of a star in fact, so we called her Marilyn. The other was quiet and rather nervous. But in a row, plastic wrapped or hanging up in a market or a butcher’s shop, they’d have looked like – well, just three turkeys…

We guessed the ones we bid for were throw-outs from a factory farm. A turkey shed may hold as many as TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND BIRDS. As they grow, conditions become more and more crowded. Dead birds are frequently missed, to decompose and be trampled on and pecked at by the living, Turkeys are notorious for attacking  other (living) birds’ eyes and heads, when under severe stress. And what could be more stressful than life in these sheds?  In the birds’ final few weeks it’s near to standing room only.

Catching the terrified birds is notoriously cruel, and slaughter no better.

Wild turkeys fly high, roost in the trees, move around in all the hours of daylight, gathering food. Mothers shelter their young under outspread wings, up in the trees, safe from predators. Obviously they mate naturally, a thing denied all commercially produced turkeys. I’ll say more on that truly upsetting subject next time.

Please think hard before you buy a turkey this Christmas. Bear in mind it will have been an individual, sentient, bird – a Boyo, a Marilyn, or maybe one of the more nervous ones.

Farming turkeys for meat under intensive conditions flouts most if not all of the Five Freedoms, those conditions which form the cornerstone of EU/UK farmed animal protection legislation. I’ll list the Five Freedoms again, as they justify Chickens’ Lib’s long-held belief that factory farming is illegal.


  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

IF YOU ARE NOT VEGAN YET, PLEASE CONSIDER MAKING THE CHANGE IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!   If undecided, why not take a look at some examples of UK turkey farms?

Footage by Viva!

The Drugs Don’t Work


Chickens’ Lib Blog 3: October 10th 2017

Drugs booklet

Chickens’ Lib published its booklet The Drugs Don’t Work nineteen years ago, so the newspaper headings about the perils of antibiotic resistance, pictured here on its cover, all pre-date 1998. (Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of antibiotic medicines.)

In September 2013 Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for Health for England, had a book published, a Penguin Special. Its title? The Drugs Don’t Work.
Yes, really! And that’s how slowly the wheels of officialdom turn.

At long last the massive problem of antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance is accepted by officialdom, and the part played by the routine and reckless use of antibiotics down on the farm is finally recognised.

I was horrified when, in the 1970s, I read the tiny label attached to a sack of poultry meal I’d been feeding to my little flock of ex-battery hens.  At that time there were several popular growth-promoting antibiotics readily available, with four of them listed on that label.

Since 2006 growth-promoting drugs have been banned throughout the EU, yet some of the same drugs may still prescribed for treating animals who may already be sick. And we’re talking large numbers here, especially in the poultry industry. At the first hint of serious illness in a flock  – let’s say in a shed containing forty-five thousand chickens – and the whole flock will be treated, via the drinking water.  And Virginiamycin, a front line antibiotic in human medicine, might well be the drug chosen.

The reckless over-use of antibiotics down on the farm has for decades been condemned by leading physicians. We quoted some of their warnings in our 1998 booklet.  Over the years, the giant multinational drug companies have exerted their pressure on governments, with huge success, while the warnings of expert physicians have been ignored.

And now the panic is on! The bugs have got wise to their enemies, our  life-saving antibiotics, and are steadily outwitting them. Thousands of human patients now die annually in the UK alone. Now a bleak and terrifying future is foreseen, when routine operations, let alone organ transplants, will be impossible to carry out with safety.

Farmers are now being urged to cut down on drug use, and told to look around for other means of keeping their animals alive, though that tactic may be useless. The harsh truth is that farmers’ willingness to continue cramming animals in filthy, disease-inducing conditions has led to this crisis. For decades billions of animals have suffered untold misery, and we humans are about to pay a very heavy price for allowing it to happen. We reap what we sow…

In Chickens’ Lib I’ve laid bare the shocking ways in which successive ministries of agriculture, departments of health, the British Veterinary Association and profiteers in general all appear to have caved in to pressure from the powerful drug companies. And many a lie has been told, in the process.

In my book I called the chapter on antibiotics in farming  Antibiotics – propping up a sick industry. Without antibiotics, factory farming could never have prospered, if “prospered” is the appropriate word for something so vile.

Recently, the World Service reported that the massive and worldwide demand for more meat is seeing a corresponding increase in antibiotic use on farms. In many countries antibiotics are readily available, with little or no curbs on their use.
Animal Aid has designated November as the month to GO VEGAN. Please take a look at their website and, if not already vegan, do give an animal-free diet a try. At least you’ll be distancing yourself from supporting the misery of millions of farmed animals. And it’s estimated that half a million people in Britain are already vegan, so you won’t be alone! So why not contact Animal Aid:



The Enriched Cage September 2017 Blog


Felicity postcard.jpg

The hen on this postcard is Felicity, the ex-battery hen pictured on my first blog.  Here she is, striding out confidently, just six months after her rescue from a life in hell.

The enriched cage – you can help abolish it
The footage below of enriched cages, obtained secretly by Hillside Animal Sanctuary in 2012, is only around two minutes long – towards the end you’ll hear a harsh clattering sound, made by the hens moving around on the metal grid flooring, and scrambling over slippery, unsuitable metal perches. Note too how the perches take up the space on the cage floor. And, in case you’re wondering: the orange plastic strips are “nesting boxes”. For a moment, picture a hen in natural surroundings, busy from dawn to dusk, scratching in the earth, caring for her young, dust-bathing in dry soil, seeking out food, laying her eggs in seclusion. Trapped in their “enriched” cages, millions of hens worldwide are suffering severe deprivation, both mental and physical.

In 2012, the shocking “barren” battery cage was banned throughout the EU. These cages typically held four or five hens, forced to live on a sloping metal floor, with barely room to move. Crammed in for a year or more, many thousands died, often remaining unnoticed in the gloom. Conditions could hardly have been more inhumane. It’s almost incredible that in the UK, an “animal-loving” country, this shocking system ever took hold. At its height, battery eggs accounted for 96% of all UK egg production.

As many of you know, the ban didn’t include a new type of cage. Now, around 20% of UK eggs are laid by hens enduring a year or more incarcerated in so-called “enriched” or “colony” cages. There can be any number of hens in the cage – 60-80 seems a popular figure. In these new-style battery cages, the birds still live behind bars, on metal or plastic grid flooring, the cages stacked in tiers, many thousands of hens to a building. New legislation demands extra additional floor space per hen, but how generous is this improvement? Well, the added space measures roughly the area of a postcard, bringing the entire minimum space per hen to 750 (116 sq inches), that’s little more than the area of a sheet of A4 paper.

According to the EU Directive on laying hens, enriched cages must include a perch, a nesting box and a claw shortening device, plus precise provisions for food and water supplies – all necessary to a hen, but wildly inadequate as supplied in an enriched cage. There’s a mandatory provision for an area of “litter such that pecking and scratching are possible” yet this provision fails to satisfy the hens’ urgent need to dust-bathe. In fact, the provision of dust-bathing/scratching material is totally impractical, in a unit housing thousands of hens. Hens dust-bathe vigorously! The air would be thick with dust particles, litter, feathers etc.,and consequently unbreathable. This unrealistic “provision” was surely cynically dreamed up as a way of keeping the cruel cage system alive.

One major colony-battery farmer told Radio 4’s Farming Today how his “girls” had “moved house” and were now “sitting pretty” in their new cages. (All through our campaign, farmers accused us of according human values to chickens…) A year or so later Poultry World, the poultry industry’s monthly publication, told readers that the farm in question had suffered a downturn in profits. Let’s hope the farmer has invested unwisely in this disgraceful system!

In 2010 the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC – an advisory body appointed by government) stated that bone fractures are common in hens in enriched cages. FAWC damned the new-style cages, concluding that the suffering inherent in the system will “severely compromise at least four of the Five Freedoms.” NB The Five Freedoms form the cornerstone of animal protection legislation and Welfare Codes. They are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

The excellent news is that almost all supermarkets have now pledged not to stock shell eggs from enriched/colony caged hens. But eggs from caged hens may still be included in cakes, biscuits, mayonnaises – in fact in any product calling for eggs.

Here’s how you can help. Why not write to your local supermarket/s or, better still, call in and ask to see the store manager. Explain to her/him that caged hens suffer extreme deprivation. Point out that the production of eggs from caged hens must be ­illegal, since conditions contravene most or all of the Five Freedoms. Insist on this point, and ask that the manager in question studies existing legislation and reads FAWC’s 2010 ‘Opinion on Osteoporosis and bone fractures in laying hens’ and then comes back to you to explain how the demands of present law can be met within the cage system. Do not be palmed off. These cages must be outlawed. Period!

As a vegan I don’t eat eggs. I decided long ago that animals are not here to serve us. But that’s another story…

Chickens’ Lib – How did it all begin?


Believe me, books can change lives!

In the late 1960s I’d picked up a copy of Ruth Harrison’s 1964 book Animal Machines. Page by page, statistic by appalling statistic, she exposed the truth about factory farming,  So many animals suffering terrible abuse! I lent the book to my mother, Violet Spalding, and she too was horrified.

Kicked into action, we wrote letter after letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF, now DEFRA) still believing in the power of the pen. From the start we’d decided to make our campaign a one-issue one – surely the plight of caged hens was huge enough in itself, for a couple of townies. In our letters we described the deprivations and sufferings of the hens. Back came the  replies,  all of them defensive, full of stock phrases like “Our animal protection laws are the best in the world” and “Regular inspections ensure that no animals are suffering.” We knew these replies to be meaningless, and dishonest. The power of the pen was getting us nowhere.


We’d been told it was possible to buy end-of-lay* hens from butcher’s shops in London’s East End. Crammed into stacked up crates, the pathetic and evil smelling hens, denuded of feathers, awaited ritual slaughter. So we drove to the Petticoat Lane area and there they were, the terrified birds, featherless, the stench of the battery shed still clinging to them. We talked a butcher into selling us four hens,  stressing that we wanted them alive. and within minutes were driving away.

Continue reading “Chickens’ Lib – How did it all begin?”