Meet Chickens!

Let’s get to know chickens for the beautiful birds they are. Chickens are sensitive and complex animals, with unique personalities and preferences. Contrary to what you may have heard, chickens are intelligent animals – they demonstrate thinking skills on par with other birds and mammals. They are naturally curious and enjoy exploring new environments and learning new skills from their peers. Much like the companion animals with whom we share our homes, chickens build emotional bonds with humans. Chickens dream, experience emotions and feel empathy. Sadly, these charming birds are exploited in many ways in New Zealand.

Demand the Government and NAWAC act now!

Join SAFE as we hold the Government and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) to account.

NAWAC and the Government have failed to take steps to reduce the pain and suffering of over 120 million chickens who are bred for meat every year in Aotearoa.

Meet Pou!

At only six weeks old, cheeky little chick Pou’s traumatic life would have ended when she was killed to be eaten. But, against all the odds, Pou fell (or jumped!) from the back of the truck on the way to the slaughterhouse. By chance, she was rescued from the side of the road, and she’s now been adopted into a loving home.

Pou is short for Pounamu, because she is a treasure to her family. She is almost three years old now and spends her days roaming the garden, dust bathing and nibbling on fruit (her favourite food is raspberries!). At night, she sleeps in a small tent, nestled into a fluffy blanket – a far cry from the filthy shed she endured as a chick. While Pou can now lead a life worth living, there are still millions of gentle, intelligent birds just like her suffering so that the poultry industry can profit.

Together, we are creating kinder Aotearoa for millions of chickens just like Pou.

The issues faced by chickens used for their meat

Over 120 million chickens are bred and killed for their meat every year in Aotearoa. These gentle and intelligent birds are bred to grow at an extremely rapid rate, reaching slaughter weight while they are still chicks, at just six weeks old.

This explosive growth causes these baby birds to suffer from a range of health issues, including heart disease, leg disorders, lameness and sudden death. Nearly all chickens farmed for meat in New Zealand are kept in overcrowded, dirty conditions where they are denied a life worth living.

According to the Poultry Industry Association, each year New Zealanders eat 20 chickens per person. New Zealanders are consuming more chicken than ever before – and chickens are suffering more than ever to meet this seemingly insatiable demand.

Poor farming conditions

Across New Zealand, there are around 180 farms that raise chickens for their meat. Most of these chickens spend their short lives inside windowless sheds with up to 40,000 other birds.

The birds are packed closely together and have little space to move around or perform their normal behaviour. The legal maximum stocking density is 38 kilograms per square metre (15 chickens per square meter), giving each bird a floor area of less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper to live their lives in.

As the chicks grow, the living conditions within the shed deteriorate. The floor litter they live on is not cleaned until the birds are taken away to be killed, meaning a lifetime’s worth of waste from tens-of-thousands of birds accumulates. Because of these filthy conditions, antibiotics are routinely fed to the chickens to prevent diseases and infection from spreading.

This isn’t a life worth living

Chickens farmed for their meat in New Zealand are bred to grow so unnaturally fast that they reach slaughter weight while they are still chicks, at just six weeks old. Normally, chickens would take more than six months to fully mature.

Rapid growth can cause chicks to suffer from a range of health issues, including heart failure and leg problems (lameness). Chicks can become so top heavy their legs simply can’t support their body weight, making it painful and difficult for them to walk or even stand. This lameness will eventually make it impossible for some of these baby bird to reach food and water, meaning a number of birds slowly starve to death.

Baby birds suffer from respiratory illnesses. This is because the buildup of waste inside the sheds (which is not cleaned during their lifetime) creates high ammonia levels in the air making it hard to breathe. With limited ability to walk, or even stand, these chicks will spend long periods of time on the filthy floor litter, which leads to painful burns to the soles of their feet, breasts and ankle joints.

Two million birds die from health problems every year in New Zealand chicken farms before they are ‘big enough’ to be sent to the slaughterhouse.

When the chicks who have managed to survive these conditions reach six weeks of age, they are removed from the shed and are sent to be killed. The shed is then finally cleaned, and the cycle begins again with new chicks.



Parent birds

Parent birds have worse lives than their babies, as they are starved for their whole lives.

Like their chicks, parent birds are kept in windowless sheds without access to the outdoors. Like their babies, parent birds are bred to eat large quantities of food and to grow extremely fast. However, if they ate the amount of food their body craves, they would develop chronic diseases and likely die before they are able breed.

As a result, parent birds suffer from chronic stress, hunger, frustration and boredom. This can cause the chickens to express abnormal behaviours such as aggression toward other birds, causing harm to their feathers and the feathers of other birds through violent pecking and they may be so hungry and distressed they resort to cannibalism.

A New Zealand free-range chicken farm

Free-range chickens

Like all chickens farmed in New Zealand, free-range birds are bred to grow extremely fast and suffer from all the health issues chickens farmed indoors experience.

Free-range chicken farming in New Zealand has no industry standards or regulations other than that there must be the potential for the birds to be able to access the outdoors. This access is usually in the form of small ‘pop holes’ on the side of the shed. Free-range chicken sheds can house upwards of 35,000 birds ‒ and just like most of the chickens in New Zealand who are raised in sheds, the combination of overcrowding and health problems that limit them from walking, or even standing makes it difficult for chickens to get to the pop holes. The reality is that most chickens on ‘free-range’ farms are not physically able to step outside.

A 2018 investigation by Farm Watch revealed the true conditions of free-range farms in New Zealand. You can view the video below. Please note that some of the content may be distressing.

Your health and eating chicken flesh

The poultry industry is putting our health at risk. It’s responsible for New Zealand’s highest impact zoonotic disease — campylobacter, which is the largest food safety problem in the country.

Research published by Cambridge University explored the ongoing campylobacter epidemic in New Zealand (between 2009 and 2018). The report revealed fresh chicken meat was responsible for an estimated 539,000 cases of campylobacter infections. As a result 5,480 people in New Zealand were hospitalised and 284 people died. The recent rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance in the campylobacter bacteria means that medicine we need to get better is no longer effective. Farming conditions are creating a public health crisis right here in Aotearoa.

The authors of the study recommended warning labels for all New Zealand chicken products to inform consumers about of the risks of eating flesh from New Zealand chickens.

Give to SAFE's campaign

Chickens like Pou need your help. Donate now and help SAFE expose the truth behind chicken farming by holding the Government and NAWAC to account.

Instead of chickens, eat …

Scientific studies show that we can get all the nutrients and protein we need from plants. Beans and legumes are some of the healthiest sources of protein available, plus they have heaps of fibre.

More and more Kiwis are making the switch to plant-based protein sources, and the options are endless! Check out these tasty chicken swaps available at your local supermarket.

Craving a tasty chicken-free meal? Try some of our delicious and easy chicken-free recipes.

Eat with Kindness

Make a difference for chickens

Deciding to leave chicken off your plate is one of the most impactful ways you can make a difference for animals in Aotearoa. Take the Chicken-Free Challenge today and get ready to discover how easy and delicious eating kinder for chickens can be!

Help create a kinder world for chickens

Take action: Find out how you can help chickens right now and be kept informed of ways you can help these birds in the future.

Donate today

Help us continue helping animals in need

As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.