The popularity of chicken meat is growing in Kenya thanks to the rising middle class, fast-food joints and health benefits associated with white meat.
As demand for chicken meat and eggs grows so does the number of chicken farms. This is driven by Kenyans’ love for chicken meat at 92 per cent followed by beef (84.7 per cent) and fish (79.4 per cent), according to a 2019 study by animal welfare group World Animal Protection (WAP).
Unlike free-range chickens that roam freely on vast lands, factory-farmed chickens are kept in cramped, highly automated and unnatural environments as units of production with disregard for their welfare.
Confinements, surgical procedures without painkillers and denial of normal socialisation deny them rights that they would have otherwise enjoyed in natural environments such as nesting, perching and sunlight access.
Others include wing flapping, dust bathing, walking as well as running outdoors.
While such practices affect birds’ social and psychological needs, farmers instead maximise small spaces to cut production costs and increase profits.
“With Kenya being an agricultural economy and chicken farming a major income-generating activity, it goes without saying that battery cage farming is on the rise. Confinement of birds in cages hinders or reduces the birds’ ability to express most of their normal behaviour as is envisaged in the five animal freedoms,” says Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animal (KSPCA) Faisal Qureshi executive officer.
Under Kenya’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 2012, cruelty on animals such as overworking while unwell, starvation and denial of water, careless surgery procedures and killing cruelly are all prohibited.
“The inability to express these behaviours leads to the birds developing coping mechanisms and in so doing some negative behaviours such as cannibalism and feather picking develop.
“These cause the birds to experience pain and suffering adding to the list of why battery cage farming is not the ideal way of rearing chicken.”
Kenya has an estimated 32 million chickens, 80.2 percent of which are indigenous while 19.8 percent are commercial layers and broilers, data by the Agriculture ministry shows.
Between 2019 and 2020, for example, Kenya produced more than one billion dressed chicken, according to the Kenya Poultry and Breeders Association.
Chickens are kept at farms for two main reasons — to provide eggs as well as meat.
At farms, chickens are exposed to force moulting and genetic manipulations for maximum yields. But these operations are considered inhumane to them.
One of the maltreatments that layers endure in their lifetime is forced moulting where they are starved of food and water for seven to 28-days to allow maximum meat production before being sold to slaughterhouses after one year.
“Forced moulting is inhumane and cruel to the birds. Fundamentally through the five animal freedoms, birds should have access to proper quality food and water and in the right amounts. During moulting, the birds suffer psychologically as they are unable to access food. Take an example of a human being having to be starved involuntarily,” says Mr Qureshi.
The pain does not end there nonetheless. On their way to slaughterhouses, birds are also cramped in trucks that offer no protection against high temperatures, making life unbearable for them. Others are also ferried on top of vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles with no protection against gushing winds.
At the abattoirs, the alive chickens are strapped onto moving shackles by their legs on their way into an electrified bath of water that stuns them. Afterwards, the birds move to automated blades that cut their throats. However, some remain alive past this stage, exposing them to inhumane pains.
This comes at a time when multinational companies such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) seek to improve the overall health and well-being of chickens raised for food in countries where it operates.
These new guidelines focus on chicken health and farming practices across all areas of the supply chain, including raising, handling, transporting and processing.
Similarly, for a few hours-old chicks undergo debeaking to remove a portion of their beaks to prevent them from pecking one another, which arises from unnatural conditions they are kept in. Without anaesthesia, the process may cause chronic pain.
Layers and broilers have also been genetically modified for maximum eggs and meat productions. Ordinarily, wild chickens raise 10 eggs per year but through genetic manipulation layers, they lay more than 300 eggs per annum.
Such production takes a toll on hens resulting in diseases such as osteoporosis, tumours and uterine prolapse, among other painful conditions.
“This results in heavier birds who later develop lameness issues. Increased egg production leads to lower calcium levels, which also lead to weak bones exposing the birds to issues such as lameness,” adds Mr Qureshi.
Apart from birds, chicken droppings produce ammonia that pollutes the environment. Others include bedding, feathers, and rotting carcasses.
“Management of waste is necessary as a way of maintaining and promoting one’s health. Manure from chicken is beneficial to farming when used in the right ways. It can be harmful if allowed to spill into other waterways as this would potentially harm other animals,” he says.
To eradicate this, there should also be research on how the welfare of factory-farmed chicken affects the public and the environment and the public need to be educated on the existing animal welfare policies and changing trends.
Others include labelling the animals for consumers’ awareness of the issues regarding factory-farmed chicken (probably label the products).
“As an animal welfare organisation, KSPCA with its various partners has started engagement forums to be able to attend to the issue,” says Mr Qureshi.