I’ll admit it, I LOVE a good chicken meal. You can give it to me ‘Shake and Baked’, you can give it to me barbecued, you can even give it to me from the crock-pot. Pretty much anyway you prepare it, I’ll eat it. And I’m not the only one. According to the USDA, a lot of people are eating chicken.
It’s understandable then that with this kind of demand there would have to be an extraordinary supply system. Enter the factory farms.
Chickens grown in factory farms will go from a 2 ounce egg to a dressed (processed) weight of 5 pounds in just under 7 weeks.
To put this in perspective, imagine something as small and as light as a baby chick, adding roughly a pound of living weight, every week for seven consecutive weeks. That is a phenomenal amount of growth!
So to recap, your factory farm breed of chicken can go from being a just hatched chick to a frozen meal ready to be cooked in less than 2 months.
What Are Chickens Injected With To Make Them Bigger?
Have you ever thawed frozen chicken and found a large amount of juice in the bag? Turns out there is a reason for this.
Some poultry companies will inject a saltwater recipe into their chicken meat in a process known as ‘plumping’. This injected fluid adds to the size and weight of the meat that you buy.
The amount of weight that this plumping process adds to the original chicken will vary from company to company, but some estimates put it between 15% and 30%.
What Makes Chickens Grow So Fast?
It’s important to know that there is a big difference between the breed of chicken that you will find in a factory farm and the breed typically found in a backyard flock.
For factory farms raising chickens for meat, a considerable amount of effort has gone into developing and refining specific physical traits as to maximize return. In other words, these breeds of chicken were designed to produce the largest bird in the shortest amount of time.
However, this intentional rapid growth is not without risk for the chicken. I can tell you from personal experience that health issues can be fairly common with these breeds.
The standard backyard flocks are considerably different. For starters, visual appeal (plumage) is a sale point, as flock owners want more than just one color. Also, the typical backyard breed is dual purpose; meaning they will lay eggs, as well as, providing meat.
But just as purpose and plumage can be radically different, so is the growth rate. Fast-growing chickens, such as found in factory farms (meat) can grow 3 times faster than your standard slow-growing breed of chicken.
This is important for the chicken farmer as the fast-growing breeds can be ready in under two months where the slow-growing breeds will be closer to six.
Do They Put Steroids In Chicken?
With so many people familiar with the stereotype of ‘athletes on roids’, it can be easy to assume that these hefty meat birds are under the same kind of conditions. However, this is not true.
The USDA says, “Hormones are not allowed in raising pork or poultry.”
Growth hormones in chicken is strictly forbidden by federal regulation.
That’s not to imply that nothing has been added to your chicken meat, as we have already discussed the process of plumping. But growth hormones should definitely not be there.
Is Chicken Healthier Than Beef?
Like everything, the health difference between chicken and beef depends on what you’re looking for. Beef has more iron than chicken, so for someone with anemia, they might find it advantageous to eat more beef.
The meat from chicken has less saturated fat and lower cholesterol levels than beef, and as such, offers benefit with regard to the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The CDC puts heart disease as the leading cause of death for both men and women. So from this perspective, eating chicken would be preferred over eating beef.
While researching for this article, I found quite a bit of hostility towards factory farming. People can be very passionate regarding the treatment of these animals. And for the sake of honesty, my flocks are primarily free-range birds, so now you know where my opinions lie.
However, for the sake of education, I need to offer you a challenge.
Take a moment and think about how much chicken you and your family eat on average in any given week and then multiply that by 52.
For example, I cook chicken at least once a week and to be honest, we prefer chicken breast over legs. So a safe guesstimate for my family would be a minimum of 6 chicken breasts a week (not including eating out).
That’s 3 birds a week or roughly 150 birds a year.
And that’s just my family.
For the record, not all of that meat has been store bought. We do raise meat birds for our own consumption. However, I can tell you, there is effort involved with raising, processing and storing your own meat.
So here is my challenge.
If you have the means, take two months out of your summer and try and raise a one-time flock of meat chickens. You don’t have to raise 150 birds, 15 chickens would be adequate for learning. I recommend the Jumbo Cornish Broiler.
This is a responsibility/obligation that will be over in less than two months, but the perspective you gain from this endeavor will last far longer than that.
I do not offer this challenge to try and persuade in any way. As someone with family who is a part of the commercial machine, I have genuine respect for both sides of the issue.
My intent with this challenge is to offer you a little in the way of understanding. Very few people grasp the true requirements of their daily diet. Raising this one-time flock will ground you with personal expertise…knowledge that is irrefutable and can only be earned from doing. In other words, you will not have to listen to any arm chair warrior on this subject, as you will be the expert!