Chickens and Turkeys

Taken from Tierfabriken Widerstand.


Modern chickens are the result of targeted breeding. Because chickens are used by humans for two different purposes – meat and egg production – two different types of chickens have been bred. While some put on a lot of meat particularly quickly, others have particularly high egg production. The desire of humans to exploit has shaped the bodies of the animals; the names reflect the respective functions: almost every chicken used today is either a “broiler chicken” or a “layer hen”.

Chickens in fattening systems

Broiler chickens” live in modern fattening systems in the tens of thousands in a hall. They are brought into the facility as chicks from the hatchery and reach their slaughter weight there in less than five to six weeks. There are over 20 animals per square metre. The chickens cannot rest undisturbed, as their species-typical behaviour such as foraging or dustbathing isn‘t possible, let alone acting appropriately with each other and maintaining social relationships. The barn is only cleaned between the fattening periods, so the chickens have to stand in their own excrement. Foot diseases are the norm; other illnesses and diseases caused by “turbo fattening” and confinement are common. After the fattening period, the chickens are packed into plastic crates and taken to the slaughterhouse, where they are stunned with gas or in an electric water bath, killed by having their throats cut, bled out, cut up and further processed.

Short video from ZDF-37 Grad on broiler chicken “production”:

Hens in egg production

The life purpose of “layer hens” is to produce eggs. In nature, the eggs of all birds are used for reproduction. The non-domesticated ancestors of today’s chickens lay 5 to 10 eggs two to four times a year, which they hatch in home-made nests. Through targeted breeding, the breeding instinct of today’s farmed chickens has been greatly reduced and the egg yield per chicken has been increased to over 300 eggs per year. In most large animal factories, the chickens live in battery farms, i.e. there are several tens of thousands of chickens in large halls, some with so-called aviary systems. The permitted stocking density is nine hens per square metre; some levels have 18 hens per square metre of floor space. From a group size of approximately 50 animals, chickens can no longer build a stable hierarchy, and this often results in behavioural disorders such as feather pecking, which can extend to cannibalism.

Hardly any “layer hens” get older than about 1.5 years. After this time, egg production deteriorates and it is most profitable to replace the hens with new ones. The “spent” animals are killed and usually marketed as “soup chickens”. It is also not profitable to raise the male chicks that are produced as part of the “production” of hens for the egg industry, as they do not lay eggs and are also not suitable for fattening because they do not produce enough meat due to the breeding. Around 50 million chicks are therefore gassed or shredded every year at just a few days old.


Around 12.4 million fattening turkeys live in Germany in conventional farming. Around 88% of these turkeys are kept on fattening farms with 10,000 or more animals.

The fattening farms are preceded by propagation farms in which parent animals for the production of offspring – the future fattening or breeding animals – are kept, and hatcheries in which the eggs from the propagation farms are hatched, in fully automatic incubators.

The focus of today’s turkey fattening is on the quick production of meat. The hybrid breed “B.U.T. 6”(“Big 6”), which is also called “heavy cutting turkey”– a term that only refers to the subsequent processing. The animals come from a few large breeding companies that are united in the umbrella organisation Aviagen Turkeys.

Fatteners desire that the turkeys gain weight, but this can be regarded as highly problematic: whereas a male chick still weighs around 60 grams, their weight at the end of the fattening is up to 21 kg – this corresponds to a 350-fold increase in weight. Even “peak outputs” of almost 24 kg are achieved. For comparison: a wild turkey weighs just 5 kg. And 30 years ago, a fattening turkey weighed an average of 11 kg. In addition, over-breeding to an oversized portion of breast meat is problematic due to consumer preferences, as the chest muscles ultimately comprise up to 40% of the total body weight.

Overbreeding is associated with considerable damage to the health of turkeys: their bodies often stop functioning as a result of the strain caused by the unequal ratio of muscles to the internal organs and overuse of their metabolism.

“The turkey is particularly overbred”, says Martin Hofstetter, who has been monitoring agriculture for Greenpeace for a long time. Even the turbo chicken, the giant ham pig and the high-performance cow would not be able to keep up. The turkey is the best example of the loss of genetic diversity in the barn. The breeders selected them due to a few qualities. Turkeys have to grow quickly, do not put on fat and produce a lot of muscle meat. In 1991, the turkey breast was still 14 per cent of the body weight of the animal. Today, it’s almost 30 per cent.

Although the agricultural industry discovered turkey fattening quite late on, it was studied intensely and with a strict division of labour: the three breeding companies Aviagen and Willmar Poultry Company from the USA and Hendrix Genetics (Netherlands) dominate the market worldwide. They deliver their eggs to a “propagation company”. These send their eggs to “hatcheries”. And only these sell chicks to the farmers.

The turkey made it to the top, although the fattening soon became discredited due to the use of antibiotics and animal welfare violations. At the beginning of the 80s, every West German ate 1.6 kilos of turkey a year; today it is 6.1 kilos.

In Germany, there is not much more than the two old breeds “Bronze Turkey” and “Cröllwitz Turkey” – fewer than 2,000 in total on small farms. They fly into the trees in the evening and lay eggs every year. They hide their chicks in the nettles until they have grown a little. They are the opposite of what the food industry sees as economic: too light and too slow to grow. They do not provide the desired yield.

Following the transport from the hatcheries to the fattening farms, the animals spend their first days in so-called rearing rings: separate areas that are only equipped with automatic feeders and drinking troughs. There, the chicks have to find their way alone and without parents. To ensure that they eat enough, gain weight as early as possible and avoid starvation, the barn is brightly lit for up to 23 hours in the first few days. After about a week, the rearing rings are removed and the entire area is available to the young turkeys.

Both male and female fattening animals (turkey cocks or turkey hens) are fattened: separated by sex, in large halls without an exercise area and with several thousand animals per group. The dominant fattening process is so-called long fattening (95% of the turkey fattening in Germany), in which the female animals are slaughtered after 15-17 weeks and the male animals after 19-22 weeks. The less common short fattening takes only 9-12 weeks for both sexes – these animals are mostly marketed as so-called baby turkeys.

With each week of life, the animals bred for maximum bodily output grow rapidly: if the available space is initially relatively large, stocking densities with up to 52 or 58 kg live weight per m² (depending on sex) are common at the end of the fattening period – this corresponds to five female or three male animals per m².

Over the course of intensive animal farming, turkeys regularly experience the following pain, suffering and damage, which mainly result from overbreeding (“agony breeding”) and poor farming conditions (e.g. restricted freedom of movement):

  • Diseases of the skeletal system (including leg weakness)
  • Foot pad ulcers or burns on the pads
  • Breast injuries (ulcers and inflammation)
  • Diseases of the cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Injuries caused by fellow species

In Germany, apart from the general requirements in the Animal Welfare Act and the Regulation for Productive Livestock, the keeping and protection of fattening turkeys are not specifically regulated by law. In addition, turkeys are not considered in the Animal Breeding Law (as is generally the case with “productive poultry”).

At the “Federal standard parameters for a voluntary agreement on the keeping of fattening turkeys” was only adopted at a national level in April 2013 on the basis of an older basic parameters agreement from 1999. It is a voluntary commitment on the part of the turkey industry, which has so far only been adopted by Lower Saxony on a purely political level.

General formulations prevail in the voluntary agreement. The overbreeding of the hybrid lines and the related health consequences for the animals are not addressed. The stocking densities are still set too high. Overall, there is even significant deterioration compared to the previous agreement, where a standard stocking density of 45 kg/m² for turkey hens and 50 kg/m² for turkey cocks was agreed upon. Only in exceptional cases was this stocking density allowed to be increased to max. 52 or 58 kg/m². Every owner who joins the newly decided but vague health programme is allowed to use the higher stocking density as a guide.

In the autumn of 2013, the organisation Animal Rights Watch took pictures in the parent animal farms of Kartzfehn GmbH. Since turkeys cannot reproduce independently due to overbreeding, insemination is carried out by turkey propagators. The pictures show animals being kicked and flung across the room. Individual animals have large wounds that are seen by staff but not treated immediately:


  • Zur Geschichte der Hühnerhaltung siehe Manfred Kriener, „Hühner, wollt ihr ewig legen“, in DIE ZEIT 14/2014.
  • Siehe z. B. Wiki-Agrar-Lexikon, Stichwort „Masthähnchen“.
  • In der sogenannten Kurzmast können Hühner bis zu 35 kg Lebendgewicht pro Quadratmeter Stallbodenfläche gehalten werden, das entspricht in der Endmast bei einem Schlachtgewicht von 1500 g einer Besatzdichte von 23 oder 24 Hühnern pro Quadratmeter. Bei anderen Mastmodellen kann die Besatzdichte auf bis zu 42 kg pro Quadratmeter erhöht werden. Vgl. Maisack, „Tierschutzrecht“, S. 203.
  • Vgl. Maisack, „Tierschutzrecht“, S. 220 ff. Das Staubbaden sei wegen der hohen Tierzahl und der dadurch bedingten starken Verkotung und Durchfeuchtung der Einstreu schon ab der Mastmitte erheblich erschwert und gegen Mastende praktisch unmöglich.
  • Vgl. Maisack, „Tierschutzrecht“, S. 220; Steffen Hoy (Hg.), Nutztierethologie, Stuttgart 2009, S. 222. Viele Hühner sterben bereits während der Mastperiode – zwischen 3 und 5 %; bei einem 20.000-Stall also 600 bis 1000 Hühner je Durchgang.
  • Die verschiedenen Betäubungsverfahren bringen verschiedene Nachteile mit sich. In das Elektrowasserbad werden die Tiere getaucht, während sie kopfüber hängen; es kommt vor, dass sie aufgrund von Zappeln gar nicht eintauchen oder dass sie zu geringen Strommengen bekommen, um voll betäubt zu werden. Vgl. „Tierschutz bei der Tötung von Schlachttieren“, Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine kleine Anfrage von Abgeordneten der Grünen, Deutscher Bundestag, 17. Wahlperiode, Drucksache 17/10021, 15.6.2012.
  • Vgl. Hoy, Nutztierethologie, S. 204 und 206 f.
  • Es gibt weitere Faktoren, die diese Störung fördern: Hohe Besatzdichte, hohe Lichtintensität, ungünstige Klimaverhältnisse und Mangel an spezifischen Nährstoffen. Vgl. Hoy, Nutztierethologie, S. 220.
  • Vgl. Wilfried Brade u.a. (Hg.), Legehuhnzucht und Eiererzeugung. Empfehlungen für die Praxis, Braunschweig 2008, S. 14, 151.
  • Die Zahlen, die in Medienberichten genannt werden, variieren zwischen 40 und 60 Millionen und sind wahrscheinlich anhand der Zahlen der Legehennen geschätzt, die das Statistische Bundesamt jährlich veröffentlicht.
  • Der Text auf dieser Seite ist angelehnt an und teilweise identisch mit dem zuvor veröffentlichten Text von Friederike Schmitz: „Tierethik – Eine Einführung“, in dies. (Hg.): Tierethik, Berlin 2014.
  • Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für unsere Mitwelt, M. Pliquett und M. Reinke, Stand 4.8.2016:
  • taz, 7.2.2009:!5168315/ [1] Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für unsere Mitwelt, M. Pliquett und M. Reinke, Stand 4.8.2016: