life story


Complaints about poultry farms are taking a quantum leap. This does not mean that what they describe is more reliable than before, quite the contrary. Instead, it means that the construction of the content of the television reports (which then spread widely on social media) is done in such a way as to combine distinct elements into a single topic to point the finger at.

Recently, some journalists from a famous television programme that carries out investigations of various kinds, did their utmost to construct one of their frequent forays/interviews where large poultry farms reside. Invariably, this too is interwoven with observations and conclusions that can only be made by those who observe things without knowing the purpose and organisation ‘behind’ poultry production. When the intention is to expose something, the eye of the investigator tends to stop where in his opinion something strange occurs. And since those who will see that footage and hear those comments know even less than the journalist or activist on duty, the result will be that anything presented as strange or ‘bad’ will be perceived with gravity even when it is in fact something that can even be explained as positive attention.

In general what happens is that humans tend to have a humanised view of animals and this leads them to transfer onto some of them the treatments they would reserve for themselves.

An example of what happens with a certain frequency has become evident and clear thanks to a small story that we report: in the first photo below you see Centaur, a small dog housed in a kennel in Austin (capital of the State of Texas) that has gone viral because of its peculiarity. In fact, the kennel managers posted a photo of Centaur who, in search of refreshment, slips into a bucket with water.




The network reacted immediately and a lot of people started to write sentences of denunciation and in general saying ‘He needs a bigger pool!‘.

The kennel managers then put ‘the wise suggestion‘ into practice, giving Centaur a small pool capable of accommodating him… As you can see from the second photo below, however, the little dog proved once and for all what his real preference was:




In essence, activists’ ‘denunciation films’ produce the same reactions because those who react do not know or frequent the protagonists of the films. And whoever produces those films does so by constructing them in such a way that the images produce indignation… And this is also the case with the ‘filmed documents’ on poultry farms that are shown on TV and online, presented as the result of daring night raids.

This should immediately raise a question mark, because it is highly unlikely that the images were shot on farms belonging to recognised, regular and registered breeders. The modern poultry sector is populated by responsible people, even if rotten apples can be found everywhere. The poultry market for many years has also been the most concerned about animal welfare and the search for optimisation to reduce the impact on the planet.

When a limping animal is presented as a premeditated activity (among thousands of others quietly prancing around), it would be appropriate to ask: why should a farmer not care about the welfare of his animals? Nobody has any interest in running a farm with situations that are contrary to animal welfare, if only because when a group falls ill, a veterinary check is triggered that could lead to sanctions or the closure of the farm.

To understand how whistle-blowing videos are sometimes ‘instrumental’, it would be enough to visit a real farm with due caution and first of all wear overalls, hats, over-shoes to avoid transferring infections to animals that live in controlled conditions anyway. Those who work on farms use these precautions to avoid risks that could negatively affect the health of the chickens. To understand the complexity of the care required, let us then try to enter at least ‘virtually’ into a farm and describe the ‘daily diary’ of activities to be followed:

It should be noted that the first phase of a farm corresponds to the housing of newly hatched animals: the chicks. As they grow, the space they occupy must be modified and increased until they are destined for the human food chain. The handler must decode the environment in which they live and the behaviour of the animals in order to record any changes and identify any deficiencies that need to be addressed. The environment and behaviour of the animals are observed several times during the day and it is desirable that this is done by the same person to better assess any variations.

Entering the shed must be ‘polite’ so as not to frighten the animals and also because simply opening the door gives an indication of the air pressure inside the shed with regard to ventilation, air intakes and fan operation. The person monitoring the herd must move slowly and check conditions using all the senses to observe, listen and smell, because every detail gives precise signals about the condition of the herd. One must listen to the cries of the animals and their breathing, the noise of the fans and feeders, check the distribution of the chickens on the ground, how many are drinking, eating and resting, their posture, eyes and gait. Then there is the quality of the litter, the possible presence of dust in the air or the smell of ammonia, the temperature and the presence of abnormal draughts.

Checking the feed and water is very important. In addition to this, it is necessary to observe certain animals by choosing them at random to check if they have a full crop, to assess their general condition (chest conformation, condition of feathers…). These observations serve to be able to intervene on any deviations from optimal conditions. In detail, the breeder must check: that the animals are calm and take equal turns when eating, drinking or resting; that their eyes are clear and free of irritation and their feathers clean; that their beaks and tongues have no nasal discharges or sticky feed

The goitre must be checked to ensure that it is soft. The anus of the animal must be clean and without signs of soft faeces, on the skin there must be no stains, scratches, blisters… while paws and hocks must be clean and without signs of inflammation. The gait must be erect and firm.

Checking the various areas of the shed is important, because if they are not frequented it could be due to draughts, cold, light or improper ventilation, so the fans, probes and control units of the heating and cooling systems must be checked. In these cases, the malfunction could lead to respiratory problems, which can also be inferred by listening to the sound of vocalisations or observing the liveliness that also indicates their well-being. Comparing the results of a visit to the herd with the previous one helps to verify any changes in the environment and thus also in health.

If the litter should present compact, non-friable areas, it would be a sign of some water leakage from the troughs or insufficient ventilation. To check this, the breeder makes frequent checks by taking some litter from various places, compressing it between his hands and checking that it is always friable. The animals’ faeces are important health-related signs, so it is necessary to check whether they are liquid and soft or dry and whether they contain undigested feed. Other questions concern the smell, the quality and consistency of the feed, the correct height of the troughs and the presence of any leaks in the water lines.

These sequences of controls are only part of what needs to be done to ensure healthy food that respects the animals, the well-being of those working on the farm and, not least, the consumer.

Every poultry farm has a duty to respect the Animal Welfare Freedoms defined by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC): the freedom from hunger and thirst, the right to have a suitable physical environment, not to get sick or suffer painful treatment or injury, to be able to manifest their behavioural characteristics and not to live in situations that cause fear and discomfort.

This virtual ‘daily diary’ of ‘a day on a farm’ should make one realise how different the reality of poultry farms is from what is told in some films that are ultimately fictions passed off as documentaries.


The Editorial Board of M.A.C.