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Demographics for all four breeds of broiler chickens


Chan, Iris; Franks, Becca; Hayek, Matthew (2022), Demographics for all four breeds of broiler chickens, Dryad, Dataset,


In 2018, over nine billion chickens were slaughtered in the United States. As the demand for chickens increases, so too have concerns regarding the welfare of the chickens in these systems and the damage such practices cause to the surrounding ecosystems. To address welfare concerns, there is large-scale interest in raising chickens on pasture and switching to slower-growing, higher-welfare breeds as soon as 2024. We created a box model of US chicken demographics to characterize aggregate broiler chicken welfare and land use consequences at the country scale for US shifts to slower-growing chickens, housing with outdoor access, and pasture management. The US produces roughly 20 million metric tons of chicken meat annually. Maintaining this level of consumption entirely with a slower-growing breed would require a 44.6%–86.8% larger population of chickens and a 19.2% – 27.2% higher annual slaughter rate, relative to the current demographics of primarily “Ross 308” chickens that are slaughtered at a rate of 9.25 billion per year. Generating this quantity of slower-growing breeds in conventional concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) would require 90,582-98,687 km2, an increase of 19.9-30.6% over the 75,577 km2 of land used for current production of Ross 308. Housing slower-growing breeds on pasture, the more individually welfare-friendly option, would require 108,642-121,019 km2, a 43.8-60.1% increase over current land use. Allowing slower-growing breeds occasional outdoor access is an intermediate approach that would require 90,691-98,811 km2, an increase of 20-30.7% of the current land use, a very minor increase of land relative to managing slower-growing breeds in CAFOs.  In sum, without a drastic reduction in consumption, switching to alternative breeds will lead to a substantial increase in the number of individuals killed each year, an untenable increase in land use, and a possible decrease in aggregate chicken welfare at the country-level scale. Pasture-based management requires substantial additional land use. These results demonstrate constraints and trade-offs in animal welfare, environmental conservation, and food animal consumption, while highlighting opportunities for policies to mitigate impacts in an integrated manner using a One Health approach.