by Andrew Campbell
When it comes to meat, chicken is the most popular in Canada. The average Canadian eats about 35 kilogram of chicken per year, double the amount that was consumed in the 1980s. That means the over 2000 chicken farms in Canada have a big job: keep up with what Canadians want. In fact, while the overall number of farms keeps dropping in Canada, the number of chicken farms has been slowly increasing to help keep up with that demand. But what does the inside of a chicken farm look like? Matt was gracious enough to invite me out to his farm to show what a chicken eats, why his birds are all kept indoors, and what it means to have a flock with the label Raised Without Antibiotics. So, come into a perfectly controlled environment that is raising meat for your plate.
We are visiting Matt who is a chicken farmer. First off, Matt what’s a broiler chicken?
A broiler chicken is a chicken raised for meat. All broiler chickens are destined for consumers or restaurants.
Before we go into the barn, I see a lot of monitors behind us. What are we looking at?
These are the main switches for all our fans, heaters, feed lines, light controls and misting system for the summertime when it’s hot out. These are all controlled by computer, which looks after all the environmental controls and environment factors such as heat, humidity and lighting.
What temperature is it in a chicken barn?
Well, when the chicks first come into the barn it is about 32 C (91F). Every day the computer drops the temperature a half a degree. Right now in the barns the temperature is about 24C (75℉).
It’s a lot nicer in here than it is outside on a day like this. Let’s see what’s inside the barn.
Andrew, when you get in here, just go nice and slow, we don’t want to disturb the chickens, so avoid any quick movements that will get them jumping up on top of each other.
Quiet and peaceful. They’re not used to a lot of company. We want to keep them calm.
We are in the barn now. Earlier you were talking about those fans and here is one right above your head.
The fans over our heads are circulating fans that move and mix the air in the barn. In the centre of the barn, attached to the ceiling, we have four tube heaters that keep it warm.
As for lighting, it’s a little darker in here than it is outside. Is there a reason for that? Is there a control for that?
We like to keep it just a little bit dim because it helps keep the chickens calmer. But as you can see they’re up moving, drinking, and eating. However, with the lights dimmed, they are very quiet.
There’s a lot of little details that come with raising these birds. Let’s start with what is on the floor.
When you come into the barn in the morning, really you want to take a look at the manure and just check to make sure that it’s relatively dry. You don’t have to pick it up, but you can tell just by walking through the barn and if it’s sticking to your shoes. If it’s getting a little tacky, then there are some controls you can adjust in the computer. Maybe we’ll bring in some more fans or get some more air moving.
The chickens get their water from nipple drinkers that are found the length of the barn. The height of the nipple drinkers is adjusted as the birds grow. All the chicken does is touch the end of the nipple and clean water will come out for the chicken to get a drink.
The yellow pans found along the length of the barn are chicken feeders. The chickens feed right here, and they are eating pellets that come from Wallenstein; the suppliers for our feed.
What’s in that pellet then?
The pellet includes soybean meal, corn, or wheat and is based on the age of the bird, how they’re growing and their stage of development. These chickens are an RWA flock, which means “raised without antibiotics”. There are different formulas for different feeding programs.
So that’s one thing that you hear more and more all the time. What would be the difference? Obviously they’re not given an antibiotic any time through the cycle. Is there a way you control disease in the barn or how do you do that?
We can give the chickens antibiotics if they are sick, but after we treat them they won’t be an RWA bird anymore.
So if they’re sick, you’re still going to treat them?
Yes. We have to, it’s not right to let them suffer.
How does the feed get dispersed?
The feed is augered through the feed line and drops into the feeding pans. It will be a while before the feed gets down to the other end of the barn, but the feed starts to drop in the pans along the feed line. The chickens know that sound of feed being dispersed and always start gathering around the feed line.
These birds are inside the barn, I’m assuming all the time. Why is it important to keep a bird inside?
We want to keep broiler chickens inside because we can control the perfect environment for them to grow in. We can protect them from harsh weather, predators, disease and so on. We control the heat, the ventilation, the water, the proper feed and the proper ration of feed they need. Clean drinking water, good bedding, dry bedding are all important parts of the whole operation. If the broiler chickens do well then we, as a farm, do well.
These birds are being raised and bred for the purpose of food. And you are trying to optimize them and keep them healthy that whole period of time.You said before it’s about 43 or 44 days before these chickens are ready for market. I’ve heard, over the last little while, concern that maybe that’s too short a time frame, but really that’s what this breed of chicken is meant to do. And you’re looking after them on a regular basis to make sure nothing goes wrong.
There are different types of chickens for different markets. For example, you can grow a smaller bird. Different processors, different restaurants, different end users, might want smaller breasts or they might want a quarter chicken dinner that’s a certain size. We raise a bigger bird, three kilograms, and that’s the size our end user wants.
So it really is meeting the demands of whatever the customer wants. Now, you said earlier that this is a family farm and people can support a family farm, which I don’t think people would think of, by going to a restaurant and buying chicken. When we buy a chicken burger, it could be supporting you and other family farmers. Well, I appreciate the tour today Matt!
Watch Fresh Air Farmer Andrew Campbell’s full video