The average grower house for meat birds measures 50 feet by 400 feet and holds 20,000 or more chickens depending on the size of the bird, says Dr. Smith. The average farm has about four houses, and they’re ventilated and artificially lit, but not brightly, so the chickens can eat and sleep on their own time. Workers attending to the houses check on the chickens at least once a day.
American meat chickens are bred and fed to be big. Hens are “eating machines,” Conner says. They’re usually kept and fed in farm houses. At some farms, like that of Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, chickens lead a freer life. Salatin says it’s vital to expose chickens to a natural environment including bugs, worms, green grass and sunshine as well as corn feed.
“The average chicken is living in a dust cloud of fecal particulates,” says Salatin. “That puts a lot of stress on the immune system,” leading to lesions on the chickens that effectively become a “direct pathway for ammonia vapors directly into the blood stream,” Salatin adds.
Unlike at Salatin’s farm, feed at factory farms often contains antibiotics as a preventive measure, but some poultry producers increasingly disagree with that practice, saying the need for them in the first place is caused by the environment they live in, poultry researchers say.
What’s more, some corn feed may contain a hazardous chemical known as hexane, a petroleum byproduct that helps extract oil and vitamins from soybeans, explains Scott Sechler, Bell & Evans chairman and president on his blog
. Sechler’s company uses hexane-free feed.
Photo Credit: Caswell_Tom