There are two types of chicken production in Canada: chickens raised for eggs and chickens raised for meat. ‘Broiler’ refers to the chickens that are raised for their meat, while a ‘layer’ chicken produces eggs. In fact, broiler chickens never lay eggs. In Canada, the majority of broiler chickens are cross-breeds based on the Plymouth White Rock and Cornish White breeds, which produce high-quality meat.
Broiler chicks are raised in large, climate-controlled barns that provide protection from predators, disease and the elements. Chickens are given access to ample food formulated to maximize their health and growth as well as clean water. All Canadian broiler chickens are raised in open, free-run barn settings with no cages. It takes 35 to 40 days to raise a broiler chicken to the size of 2 kg which is when they are ready for processing. Trained chicken catching crews then come in to round up the birds and load them into specialized trucks to be transported to the processing facility where they are processed and packaged for market.
It all starts with production planning: chicken farmer organizations meet to determine how much chicken will be needed in the Canadian market during a specific time and then they plan how many chickens need to be raised to meet that demand. This is usually done about 2 months in advance. This system is called supply management.
Cycle of broiler chicken production
- Broiler breeder farms, which are operated by broiler hatching egg farmers, specialize in raising female (hens) and male (roosters) birds. These hens and roosters are bred to produce fertilized eggs, that are sold to broiler hatcheries for incubation.
- Hatchery: At the hatchery, the eggs are placed in incubators where they are kept warm and automatically turned at regular intervals. The eggs hatch after 21 days.
- Delivered to Farms: Once hatched, the chicks are delivered to the farm from the hatchery the same day as ‘day-old’ chicks. It’s at this step that the farmer places chicks in the clean barn with fresh bedding.
- Grow and Mature: Now the chickens grow and mature. They live in large, climate-controlled barns where they roam freely around the barn with access to food & water 24/7.
- Transport: Once fully mature, the chickens are transported to the plant for processing. Transporting chickens is highly regulated and done with much care to prevent stressing the chickens.
- Delivery: After being processed at the plant, processors deliver all our favourite types of chicken to grocery stores and restaurants.
Ask a Veterinarian: How are antibiotics used in the production of chicken?
Antibiotics are a lifesaving medicinal tool that doctors and veterinarians use to fight disease and keep people and animals healthy. The main reasons for chickens to receive antibiotics are to keep the birds healthy, to treat disease and to prevent diseases from establishing themselves in the flock. The preventative use of antibiotics is only applied in specific situations.
It is easy for disease to spread amongst a chicken flock as they are social animals that live in enclosed, climate-controlled barns which protect them from the weather and predators. To quickly and efficiently treat any sick animals, antibiotics are administered through their watering system or included with their feed rations.
Canadian chicken farmers support the responsible use of antibiotics that have been approved by the Veterinary Drugs Directorate of Health Canada to ensure food safety, animal health and animal welfare. There are three reasons to administer antibiotics.
- First, to help sick chickens feel better.
- Secondly, for food safety reasons, farmers want to ensure that no sick animals enter the food chain.
- Third, healthy birds grow more efficiently than sick ones. This means a higher production rate, better returns for the farmer and a lower price at the grocery store.
All Canadian chicken farmers must be certified in the Raised by a Canadian Farmer Animal Care Program that outlines mandatory standards for animal health and handling. It requires sick or injured birds to be handled humanely by trained personnel using approved methods and the farmer must have a flock health plan in place and a veterinarian on call. Further, all Canadian chicken is free of antibiotic residues. Canada has strict regulations with respect to antibiotic use and withdrawal times to ensure that chicken reaching the marketplace does not contain residues. This is monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.