Chickens are the most populous bird on the planet. There are 23 billion of them at any given time – that’s more than ten times more than any other bird. 

This is an astonishing achievement for a bird that started off as a small, wild jungle bird in South East Asia. Chickens were first domesticated around 8000 years ago, but they only started being reared intensively in the 1940s. A competition was held in the USA called ‘The Chicken of Tomorrow;’ it aimed to promote selective breeding of chickens to make them fast growing, and to ensure they provide high protein content at low cost to the consumer. 

Since then, chicken farming has undergone a technological revolution. Now, a single computer can manage 45,000 chickens, whose environment is heavily controlled through the use of CCTV and CO2 monitors. 

A broiler chicken, the typical intensively reared chicken, grows bigger and faster than ever before. The maximum age of slaughter of a broiler chicken is 39 days. If they grow any older, they risk falling prey to genetic weakness, as their bones and internal organs cannot handle their rapid rate of growth. Such chickens cannot survive without human intervention. 

In the average supermarket, a broiler chicken costs £2/kg. A free range chicken costs £4, and an organic chicken costs £7. Although battery farming was banned in the EU in 2012, as long as the consumer continues to demand low cost chicken, farmers will continue to raise intensively reared chickens.

Originally created and published by The Economist

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