How do you measure a chicken's happiness? Is it in the way it runs for food? How much time it spends preening? To size up what might make chickens happy in their brief lives, researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, are putting 16 breeds through physical fitness and behavioral tests, per the AP. They're watching how well birds scramble over a barrier for food, how skittish they seem, and whether they play with a fake worm. "We have to infer when an animal is happy or content or experiencing pleasure based on their behavior," says Stephanie Torrey, one of the researchers. In recent years, the animal welfare world has moved beyond looking at how to minimize suffering to exploring whether animals can also enjoy their lives, Torrey notes.
Such measures may be considered irrelevant by companies but underscore a broader lack of consensus around the welfare of chickens, which are sometimes slaughtered as soon as five weeks after hatching. Animal welfare advocates say cruelty begins with birds bred to have breasts so big they can barely walk. They say today's chickens are genetic monstrosities crippled by pain and that the industry needs to switch breeds. The industry disagrees, arguing that chickens are largely sedentary. The Guelph study is being funded by the Global Animal Partnership, which certifies corporate animal-welfare standards. In 2016, it launched a campaign to get companies to switch to "slower growing" breeds. It's now pushing for a "better" chicken, hoping the study will help define what that entails. (Chicken diapers are a thing.)