Pastured poultry facts


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Animal Welfare

Broiler with leg problems

Broiler with leg problems

The modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate. This selective breeding comes with serious welfare consequences:

  • Leg disorders: skeletal, developmental and degenerative diseases
  • Heart and lung problems, breathing difficulty, and premature death
  • Mutilations including de-toeing, clipping, beak trimming and other surgical procedures performed without anesthetic

In Georgia, the typical grow house is 50 feet wide and 500 feet long- over 35% longer than a football field. While that may sound large, one house can contain more than 30,000 chickens.  At such densities, each bird at slaughter weight has only about as much floor space as this piece of paper. 

End of cycle broiler chickens inside typical growhouse

End of cycle broiler chickens inside typical growhouse

Thirty thousand chickens crowded together in an enclosed area produce enormous amounts of animal waste, which accumulates over the growth cycle.

At the end of the ‘growth cycle’, chickens are caught manually and placed into crates that transport them to slaughter. The crates are stacked 10 high.


Georgia’s industrial poultry operations produce enormous volumes of waste. Collectively, they generate approximately 2 million tons of poultry litter annually, about 20% of the US total.

Dirty creek near a broiler processor

Dirty creek near a broiler processor

  • When waste is over-applied to crops, it can seep into the lakes, rivers and aquifers of Georgia, impairing water quality
  • Recreational use, waterfront property values, water quality and fish biodiversity all decline with excess waste in rivers and lakes
  • Broiler waste may contain arsenic, a human carcinogen.

Human Health

The factory farming of chicken is having a negative impact on human health in the form of foodborne illnesses and antibiotic resistance:

  • Food illnesses related to poultry consumption cost the United States over $2.4 billion annually, more than any other food
  • Almost 80% of all antibiotics are used on food animals
  • US households lost approximately $35 billion in 2000 to antibiotic-resistant infections


Growers, catchers and processing plant workers are detrimentally impacted by the factory farming of broiler chickens.

  • Line workers must keep pace with fast-moving animals on conveyor belts, often having to repeat the same cutting motions 20,000-30,000 times each day, leading to an array of musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Handlers of live chickens are exposed to respiratory toxins and risk developing lung-related illnesses and other health problems.
  • Contract growers have difficulty making ends meet due to a growing gap between income and operational costs, as well as diminished bargaining power with the few large companies that now dominate the market


Since 2005, Georgia has seen a 600% increase in farmers’ markets

Organic food sales in the US have grown annually at an average rate of 19% from 1997-2008

Georgia has become the leading broiler producer in the nation, but only at great costs to animal welfare, human and environmental health, and farmers and workers.  We believe Georgia can become a leader in promoting a fair, humane and sustainable alternative.

What do the Georgians for Pastured Poultry (GPP) mean by pastured poultry?

There is no legal definition for pastured poultry in the United States. However, the Pastured Poultry Foundation defines pastured poultry as:

“Birds are kept outside (as the season and daylight hours permit), utilizing a movable or stationary house for shelter, and they have constant access to fresh-growing palatable vegetation.”[i] An acceptation to this would be birds in their first few weeks should be kept indoors until robust enough to cope with the external environment.

In addition to the above, the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) state that pastured poultry should embrace “humane, people-friendly, environmentally enhancing, pasture-based production models. “[ii]

Because no legal definition of pastured poultry exists as of yet in the United States, short of visiting the farms themselves, consumers must look to a certification program to be certain that what they are buying is indeed what they want. Consumers should be cautious with labels and terms because they can be open to interpretation or irrelevant[1]. Without a federal or legal definition of pastured poultry, certifications are critical tools for consumer certainty in a product.  If consumers are unable to visit a farm, then certifications are the most reliable way to find pastured poultry chicken.  There are currently two certifications which consumers can look to for which the GPP endorses as high welfare pastured poultry chicken.

The first of these is the 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards, level  4, 5 and 5+ only. In essence,  Step 4 is pasture-based production, Step 5 is where there is an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited and, finally, Step 5+ is where the entire life of the animal is spent on an integrated farm.[iii] The second of these certifications is Animal Welfare Approved. The premise of the Animal Welfare Approved standards is that animals must be allowed to behave naturally. The standards allow chickens the opportunity to perform natural and instinctive behaviors essential to their health and well-being. Provisions are made to ensure social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological well-being. [iv]The full standards for meat chickens for each of these can be found here:

5 Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards for broiler chickens :

Animal Welfare Approved:

Admittedly, the freedom to choose high welfare pasture poultry chicken at present is limited in Georgia. Few pasture poultry certified products are available in the marketplace at the moment.  However, the GPP hopes that as more consumers demand pasture poultry of food businesses, the market will begin to shift and food citizens will have more choice.  The GPP encourages food citizens to request pastured poultry wherever they consume chicken.

The Georgians for Pastured Poultry is dedicated to improving the impact that chicken farming is having on workers, the environment, the economy, human health, farmers and animal welfare through the promotion and increase of pastured poultry farming and consumption in Georgia. It is a working group made up of the following: Compassion in World Farming, Darby Farms, Georgia Organics, GreenLaw, Shaun Doty, Sierra Club, White Oak Pastures, and Whole Foods Market.

[1]‘Natural’  can be found on meat chicken packaging, but can mean an array of things and has no relevance to animal welfare.   ‘Hormone free’ can be seen on poultry packaging, however it is against federal law to administer growth hormones to any poultry. Also ‘cage free’ with meat chickens can be seen on chicken packaging, however meat chickens even on factory farms are never kept in cages. Egg laying hens in factory farms are the chickens kept in cages. These are a different breed and undergo a different rearing method all together from meat chickens.

[i]Pastured Poultry Foundation, Accessed 31 December 2011

[ii] American Pasture Poultry Producers Association,



7 Responses to Pastured poultry facts

  1. Pingback: CIWF: ‘New investigation into chicken farming in the USA’ « world news for life

  2. Pingback: Moving Beyond Factory Farms: Pastured Poultry | PRO-BTC

  3. Carolyn Woodward says:

    I would support pasture methods of raising chickens.Any petitions to ban caged and factory farmed birds I would support.

  4. Rob Wardle says:

    I stopped eating meat long ago having seen the appalling cruelty we subject animals to. They are under stress and scared and quite obviously unhealthy. How anyone can think these plainly ill and pitiful animals are beneficial to our diet is difficult to imagine. They are sentient creatures and our continued ignorance can only be of detriment to us.

  5. Well done. Lets tell people what is going on. They really don’t know.

  6. Pingback: Not all organic eggs are made equal « Plate Smarter

  7. Lisa Anthony says:

    I pledged to not eat or support CAFO’s. So I built a chicken coop, and bought a variety of 20 birds. And I like the birds. But in my reality, they are eating better than me. They eat the feed I got for them, the food I give the cats, and my garden. I understand there would be a learning curve for a new lifestyle. But I need some knowledge on how to make it work in harmony. The hens are laying now. I have gotten 5 eggs so far. Any suggestion are welcome for this beginner.

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