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Primer on the Lives of Canada’s Turkeys & Chickens

Chickens on farm

Do you want to know more about the living conditions of turkeys and chickens on Canadian farms? Read this two-page primer!


While Canada is a world leader in space standards for turkeys and chickens, with better standards than in the EU and the US, we still have a long way to go to properly meet the behavioural and biological needs of turkeys and chickens. Under this new code, the population density of turkeys and chickens has been limited to 15 birds per square metre, but that can be extended up to 17 birds per square metre if the farmer can prove that no undue suffering is caused by the increase in population density. The ideal density in terms of humane housing is in the range of 10-12 chickens per square metre.

To control the genetically-selected pre-disposition to grow very quickly, Canadian poultry farmers impose severe restrictions on how much and how often their breeder animals can eat. Feed restriction begins at approximately 2 to 3 weeks of age with skip-a-day feeding that leads the animals to suffer from chronic hunger. Feed restriction is used as a management approach to reduce the fertility problems and increased mortality rates that result from their genetic selection for rapid growth. Sadly, because of the massive appetite that has been genetically programmed into these animals, this feed restriction is, currently, a necessary evil. The problem is in the selective breeding that genetics companies do, and change is needed at that level.

Darkness benefits birds by allowing them to sleep and develop circadian rhythms, which is important for immune function, growth rate, digestion and preventing lameness. Until now, there has been no industry standard in terms of how much rest time turkeys and chickens have per day. The requirement to provide 4 hours of rest time per day for Canada’s chickens and turkeys represents a major improvement in bird welfare.

There are multiple causes of lameness in chickens and turkeys, but the majority of injuries and illnesses are caused by unhygienic litter conditions and rapid weight gain/growth. Lameness in poultry is measured on a scale of 0-5, which relates to the animal’s ability to walk. A score of 3 or higher is considered clinical lameness. Birds with a gait score of 3 should be euthanized unless they are within 7 days of market weight because of the pain and suffering they experience. Birds with a score of 4 or 5 should be euthanized without delay. Currently, there is no agreed-upon threshold for what constitutes an acceptable animal lameness rate in the Canadian poultry industry. Having lameness rate standards helps to hold the industry accountable for the number of birds who develop lameness while in their care. CFHS recommends an industry-wide standard of maximum 10% lameness, relative to the overall population.

Currently, there are no agreed-upon standards across the Canadian poultry industry for what constitutes an acceptable animal mortality rate on turkey and chicken farms. Having mortality rate standards helps to hold the industry accountable for the number of birds who die while in their care – whether it’s by reason of flock culling, illness or injury. CFHS recommends maintaining a mortality rate of no more than 4% as a way of enforcing optimal welfare conditions for Canada’s poultry.


-The ideal amount of dark rest time would be 7 hours per day
-Birds need to be fed every day to relieve their chronic hunger but, first, the genetic selection that causes the massive appetite and rapid growth of the birds needs to shift
-Agreed-upon limits on lameness, injury and mortality rates on Canadian bird farms are required in order to increase the industry’s humane standards
-Hot blade trimming of beaks and toes is still allowed – this needs to be phased out in favour of infrared trimming, which is much less invasive and less painful
-In cases where birds are not suffering and are killed anyway, it should not be called humane euthanasia. It should be called humane killing
-A further decrease the number of birds housed per square metre

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