Chickens crammed into a barn with very little space on a broiler farm in the UK

Hock burn is a silent crisis in chicken welfare


It's a reality that we all too often ignore: the vast majority of chickens sold in our supermarkets are living in pain, and dying from it.

What is hock burn? 

Chickens raised for meat, known as broilers, are bred to grow at an absurd and unnatural rate. Today, they are slaughtered when they're just 42 days old, compared to the 70-day average in the 1980s. This rapid growth means that the chickens don't have the time to heal from painful conditions like hock burns, which are ulcers that form on the back of their knees as a result of contact dermatitis. These ulcers develop slowly and are particularly prevalent among younger and rapidly growing chickens 
A recent study conducted by Open Cages has shed light on this grim issue, revealing that 74% of the 514 chickens examined from 22 different Lidl branches across the UK had visible ulcers at the point of sale. These aren’t just statistics; these are telling figures of the cruel conditions broiler chickens endure in their short lives.  

Sadly, this isn’t a new issue. A study conducted by Cambridge University's Veterinary Medicine department in 2010 found that an astounding 82% of chickens suffered from hock burns. And the worst part? The most severe lesions are often cut off during processing, meaning that the actual scale of their suffering is even greater than what we see in our supermarkets.

In February of this year, the BBC asked the UK's 10 largest supermarkets to report their hock burn statistics. Out of those, only five responded, with self-reported numbers ranging from 2.7% to 36.7%. However, without a standard methodology, these figures cannot be trusted. The full, true extent of animal suffering remains hidden behind vague statistics and corporate indifference. 

Hock burns are a clear indication of the poor living conditions these animals are subjected to. They are not just a cosmetic issue; they signify a deeper systemic problem. One study of 11 chicken production sites found an alarming 98%+ incidence of hock burn in free-range systems, compared to 0% in organic systems. 

Red Tractor is a certification body who certifies 95% of British chickens (including those in the Open Cages report). It's clear that current certification standards are not enough to prevent widespread suffering and this disparity highlights the urgent need for stricter welfare standards.

What can you do?

Chicken on a higher welfare farm looking straight at the camera

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Chickens crammed into a barn with very little space on a broiler farm in the UK

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