So yesterday we talked a little about chicken and what kinds of chicken I am eating these days. Why don’t we spend some time talking today about commercial chicken.
I recently found a great article that details the process of raising chicken in a commercial chicken operation. It is not a site dedicated to vegetarianism or even “real food”. They are just a ‘how do they do it type of website’. Dear madehow.com, I am not plagiarising your work as much as I am spreading the word and heralding the thoroughness of your article!
The chicken most commonly eaten today is a descendant of Gallus gallus, a red jungle fowl originally native to India and Southeast Asia. As the bird was domesticated, the variety spread westward from India toward Greece. From Greece it was introduced into western Europe by Roman armies. During the Roman era the birds were commonplace. The first European settlers brought chickens with them when they settled in North America.
Today, the Commercial Chicken business is BIG business.
The Production Complex
Most chicken bred for meat in the country are a mix of Comish males and White Rock females. While meat birds are raised in large houses, they are bred in a type of coop that you would consider more traditional. It consists of a large house with several small coops where hens can lay eggs. Once lain, the eggs are taken from the nests and placed in a incubation. Breeder hens live for less than a year, about 45 weeks, and then are slaughtered. The meat from these breeder hens is used in pet food or other processed food applications where a lower grade of food is needed.
Eggs are placed into incubators for about 20 days, where they are kept warm and rotated by machines. Newly hatched chicks are not fed for their first three days of life as they are still living off their yolk sac for nutrition. Chicks are inoculated for diseases shortly after hatching, and shortly thereafter, they are shipped to nearby "grow-out" farms.
Chickens have been bred to reach a weight of about 4 pounds in a 6-7 week time period. The article I read mentioned bred chickens as opposed to genetically modified varieties. I am not under the impression that there is any GMO chicken out there on the market. Genetic Modifying has been more successful in plant foods such as corn and soybeans and canola plants. However if I am wrong--please comment on this post. I want to know for sure. Chickens, after hatching, are sent to "grow-out farms" where they will live and be fed in large houses with as many as 20,000 other birds. The birds are not caged but are provided with less than 1 square foot per bird, so some of the drawings at the Made How website are a little misleading because they show quite a bit more room in the chicken house than is actually allowed. Remember back to your school days. Much of the linoleum flooring found in those hallowed halls were comprised of 1 foot by 1 foot tiles. That would be one square foot. That's not that much space by the time those birds reach 4 pounds. At the growing out farms too, chickens are treated for diseases with antibiotics or other medication. The article did not mention whether all birds were treated, or whether just the sick birds were treated....The search for the truth goes on.
Chickens are typically collected by hand by the farm workers. Although many mechanical chicken collectors have been created. Nothing works that much better than plain ole' human hands. The chickens are packed into boxes or crates which are then sent off to the processing plant.
In the processing plant birds are suspended from their feet while still alive. They are passed through a vat of electrified water, the water only stuns the birds. Then the birds go through an automatic neck cutter which severs just their arteries, but leaves the head intact. The birds hang while their blood drains.
Defeathering and Evisceration
The carcasses then are passed through a hot water bath which makes the defeathering easier. Defeathering and evisceration are done by automated machine. Carcases are defeathered by moving rubber fingers, then washed again in the hot water bath, and defeathered a second time to remove any remaining feathers. The Defeathered carcasses are scrubbed. Then the head and feet are removed. Then the carcass is cut open, the innards are removed, and finally the bird is washed again inside and out.
Chilling and Cutting
The cleaned birds are sent next into a pool of cooled, chlorinated water for 40-50 minutes. The entire cleaning process takes about an hour. The birds once cooled are then passed along to be cut. The pieces are then diced up for whatever sale the processor is supplying. Some birds certainly are left whole or dressed for supermarket sale. Meat from neck and backs and wings may be removed and sold for use in hot dogs or coldcuts. Some birds may be cooked whole and processed so that their diced meat may be used in higher end processed foods.
The Made How article is very informative. I think the first step in making cleaner food choices is to know where conventional food comes from. I am not outlining anything in the above to highlight gross practices or dissuade you from eating conventional poultry. And I am much more concerned about how the birds are raised than I am how they are cleaned.
The article does mention waste. Chickens produce an awful lot of feces. And 20,000 chickens in one house create the biggest pile of s*** you can probably imagine. Interestingly enough the article does not mention the feces until the end of the article, completely separately from the farms themselves. But make no mistake. Our conventional chickens are definitely walking on poop all day. I just don't believe that their coops could possibly be cleaned well enough to leave their coops substantially poop-free. The article continues to say that chicken manure is attractive to flies, and enough manure can increase fly populations from surrounding areas. The ammonia gas has a very offensive odor. And the run off during a rain storm can wash harmful bacteria into local water supplies. Truly, large scale factory farms create some problems and imbalances in the environment that are not easily solved.
That's why I recommend smaller farms, local farms. Small local farms are more likely (though not always) to be in better balance with their environment, because their populations of animals are not so dense. You will pay more, but, isn't there another solution to that problem? You could just eat less meat overall. Many different sources state that we need 50-60 g of protein per day. One ounce of chicken breast meat contains about 6g. And if you eat nuts and yogurt, drink milk and eat other protein rich foods, 4-5 ounces of meat a day are probably all you need to get your daily requirements. I am of the opinion that meat is really necessary and very healthy. But I am no Dr. Atkins, I believe meat holds it's important place in a larger healthy diet of plant foods. But that is another post for another time...