Effect Measure

Why can’t the chicken cross the road?

Because he’s too fat. Broiler chickens (the ones raised for meat) are essentially a cash crop, grown much like wheat or corn. When the chicken is ripe it’s harvested. The Grim Reaper. We admit to not knowing much about poultry science and the business it supports, but because of our interest in bird flu we have been learning. There is a some well founded suspicion intensive poultry farming is one of the enabling conditions for the evolution and spread of bird flu.

These birds are raised under very difficult conditions and lead their short lives in extraordinary population densities, often more than a hundred pounds of birds per square meter. I’m not sure how many birds this represents but modern methods of poultry husbandry have greatly accelerated chicken growth rates, which have increased 300% since the middle of the last century. These birds used to gain about 25 grams (just under an ounce) a day. They now gain about 4 ounces a day (100 grams). And with that growth comes “leg disorders.” Translation: they can’t walk. A very large survey of leg disorders in commercially raised broilers has just been published in PLoS ONE, an open access journal. You can read it here. Here’s the gist.

A team of veterinarians in the UK assessed the ability of 51,00 birds to walk, using a standardized gait scoring method. The birds were in flocks from five different companies, representing an estimated 4.8 million birds in 176 different flocks ( about half the UK’s productive capacity). In addition information was obtained from the companies on 150 management practices in an effort to see if any were significantly associated with poor leg health. These practices are used throughout the global industry of industrial poultry farming.

Over a quarter of the birds had significant difficulty walking and over 3% couldn’t walk at all at 40 weeks, a typical age at slaughter. The paper includes (at the end) download links to short movies illustrating each of the six gait categories (warning: clicking these links will download a .mov file of sizes 2 and 5 MB respectively; 0 is normal [2.19 MB], 5 is unable to walk [5.71 MB]). There was also considerable variation in the flock gait scores in different companies. Some were much better than others.

But many factors were associated with gait score besides company. First was season. The lowest (i.e., best) gait scores were in March, the highest (worst) in September. It is interesting to note this puts gait score roughly in phase with influenza seasonality. They are probably not related but the reason for the seasonality is unclear. The older the bird the worse the gait score. Interestingly bird genotype was also a factor. Commercial poultry are of roughly two genetic stocks, representing two different international breeding companies that supply most of them. Most flocks have both genetic stocks, but the higher the percentage of the genotype the authors labeled “A” the worse the average flock gait. Increase in wheat in the diet was also associated with better gait. Poultry food is pelletized to reduce wastage but some of it is poorly pelletized and becomes powdery. Poorly pelletized food is also associated with better gait. The reason in both instance is probably the same: the birds don’t grow as fast. Birds also don’t feed in the dark, so the length of darkness in the sheds (many are lit 24 hours a day) also correlated with better gait.

Two other management practices deserve mention. One is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are routinely used in all poultry operations. This routine use couldn’t be studied because “variables have to vary.” But some companies use extra antibiotics and this seems to improve locomotion, presumably (so the companies believe) because the birds are healthier. The other major factor affecting bird welfare as measured by the ability to walk is stocking density, densities which are shockingly high. Whether the effect on locomotion is merely that the birds can’t move around or because of the huge accumulation of their own waste they live in is unclear. But it is no real surprise, whatever the explanation.

These birds are raised to maximize profit, not maximize animal welfare. That much is obvious. But it doesn’t mean that animal welfare considerations are irrelevant, even from the purely commercial point of view:

The study indicates that modern husbandry and genotypes, biased towards economics of production, have been detrimental to poultry welfare in compromising the ability of chickens to walk. However, we demonstrate that within the current framework there is variation in the magnitude of the problem between different flocks, and so some scope to improve walking ability through alterations in husbandry practice. Work needs to be carried out on the predictability of these risks, and the economics of improved welfare practices, for them to gain industry acceptance. An informed balance could then be drawn between profitability and our moral obligation to maintain good standards of animal welfare. The agreement, in May 2007, within the EU of new regulations governing the conditions under which broilers may be reared is a recognition of the problems associated with modern broiler production and is an attempt at a first step towards remedying the situation.


Research shows that consumers currently know little about how broiler chickens are reared but can be shocked when presented with information about current commercial practices. Since the sustainability of intensive broiler production depends on continued consumer acceptance of the farming practices involved, the broiler industry will need to work with the scientific community to develop more robust and healthier genotypes and to ensure that optimal husbandry and management practices are fully implemented. (my emphasis; cites omitted; Knowles TG, Kestin SC, Haslam SM, Brown SN, Green LE, et al. (2008) Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prevention. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1545. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001545).

So here’s the question: Leg or breast?


  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    February 7, 2008

    In 1990 I left college for a semester and went to work on a farm, for extra money. They raised meat chickens, too, and the situation was exactly what is described in this paper. They got too heavy to walk. In fact, one of the “morning chores” was looking through the chicken sheds to find the birds whose legs had actually snapped under their weight, so that we could dispose of them. We generally lost up to 5 out of every shed per week (a shed being from 100-400 birds, depending on the shed). Some flocks suffered considerable attrition that way, maybe as much as 10% before the slaughter date.

    The irony there is that this was a registered “organic” farm. However, as with many organic farms, although they have to agree not to use antibiotics as part of a normal feeding schedule for the animals, there are of course exceptions to allow injured or ill animals to be treated with antibiotics. And because of the rate of growth and overcrowding, many of the chickens suffered distress and injury — so of course could be fed antibiotics. Which just purely coincidentally bulked them up even more, of course.

  2. #2 tony
    February 7, 2008

    I had the chance to visit a farm raising chickens for Perdue in the 1990’s. No forced overcrowding, the birds I observed crowded to one corner of the barn for warmth, but had ample room per bird. Antibiotics NOT PERMITTED by Perdue as part of normal feeding. Overweight breasts, yes, as a result of breeding, with skeletal problems a result. Biggest issue for the farmer: Perdue paid so little per bird farmers often become serfs to the company, in debt to Perdue and having to continue to raise birds just to forestall payment.

  3. #3 chezjake
    February 7, 2008

    It’s curious that the term “broiler” chicken still exists. 25 to 30 years ago, the average broiler chicken weighed about 2.5 lbs and a roaster weighed a bit over 4 lbs. Nowadays, the smallest chickens in the markets are over 4 lbs and roasters are often over 7 lbs.

    You almost never see broiled chicken on menus anymore, despite it usually being healthier, because a split 4 lb bird is too meaty/thick to broil to appropriate doneness without burning/overcooking parts of it. As a result, we wind up eating most chicken either fried or sautéed, thus adding more fat to what is hypothetically a lean, healthy food.

  4. #4 paiwan
    February 7, 2008

    It is exhilarating to see the discussion of BF now back on poultry production itself. This is the area of leverage to solve the problem of BF.

  5. #5 SaddleTramp
    February 7, 2008

    Not only are commercial breed chickens too heavy to walk, but there are breeds of turkeys that are too heavy to breed naturally. And none of these unfortunates can fly, of course.

    Virginia Tech has even developed a “terminal cross” chicken that it sells specifically for harvesting at a remarkable 8 weeks. After that, the chickens can’t move. VT only sells chicks and eggs — the buyer must agree in writing to butcher the chickens, not try to breed them. IMO, this can only lead to more and more hardship for the animals in the pursuit of more money for the farmers. Some experiments should never happen.

    But there are thousands of “backyard” breeders, like my sister (a 4H leader) who are doing their best to help save the rare and endangered breeds that still exist. These chickens, which were typically free-roaming and/or living in household coops, can potentially provide a sound genetic base for healthier commercial chickens.

    The industry has no excuse – “we have the technology.”

  6. #6 twocrow
    February 7, 2008

    Nasty birds, those cornish cross broilers. They sit halfway between the food dish and the water and wait to be eaten. I have to confess that free range birds are less fat, and a bit tougher. It isn’t the mushy tastless stuff from the stores– they actually have flavor and perhaps, if I forget to slaughter them young enough, a bit too much texture.
    But it’s those confinement people with 20000 birds slugging down antibiotics who claim that my free range birds cause the disease! Bah!
    Of course, one of the things that changes the flavor is their diet– chickens are shockingly omnivorous. I have seen them pounce on mice, baby rabbits (I tried to save it, but was too slow), snakes, baby birds, dead stuff. They choose meat over veggies every time.

  7. #7 Farmer
    February 7, 2008

    Chezjake has correctly identified the problem. We have bred chickens and turkeys to maximize breast meat to meet consumer demand for lean white meat. This has resulted in heavier body weights stressing the same basic skeletal structure. At a certain point, the structure fails. These commercial breeds have been modified to the point where they could not survive long without human intervention.

    A comment about crowding- broilers are initially placed in housing with way too much space per bird. They have good strutting/scratching/pecking room for most of their lives. The crowding comes at the end of their lives, as the space is fully utilized by fully (over)grown body mass.

    Revere, if you want to highlight the misery of constrained, stressed chickens, look into how we keep laying hens. You will never look at an egg the same way again…

  8. #8 Library Lady
    February 7, 2008

    Dear Revere,
    I have a 3.35 lb “frying chicken” in my freezer right now. Most birds in the grocery are not much bigger than that. To answer your question about how many birds would be kept in one square meter: if live birds weigh around 4 lbs, then there are about 25 birds per square meter.

    Both posts above indicate that flocks have a “harvest date”, and that would make economies for mass slaughter, but if a bird has gained enough weight to snap it’s own legs, it must be heavy enough to harvest if seems healthy.
    Also, the above post indicates that the organic farm disposed of it’s downed chickens–they were not part of the harvest.

    I am wondering if the corporate poultry producers are regulated to NOT process downed birds for human consumption just as the cattle industry is regulated to NOT process downed cattle (because of BSE)?

    Library Lady

  9. #9 quinque
    February 7, 2008

    Have you considered vitamin D as a causative factor? Less than optimal vitamin D status is known to interfere with gait and increase risk of falls in elderly people. Some recent findings suggest that low vitamin D status also increases susceptibility of humans to seasonal influenza infection in humans. Could it be that both relationships also apply to birds?

  10. #10 pauls lane
    February 7, 2008

    well up here we don’t eat anything that dies a ‘natural’ death, steer, chicken, whatever. We do eat lots of venison, wild turkey, wild goose, rabbit, healthy animals that die suddenly 🙂

  11. #11 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    Having been raised for much of my youth on a ranch, I have a more pragmatic point of view. Economics drives the move to animal cruelty, not a wish to make the lives of all we eat as miserable as possible. Economics has also driven the family farmer out of business. If you are unwilling to cut every corner in order to undercut your neighbor, then you fail and you lose your farm. Watching the dairy cows as they were hoisted by forklifts, poked in the eyes and ‘encouraged’ to walk in any way possible, shows the lengths we are willing to go to make it in the business. The whole system is morally bankrupt. From the dairyman who stress the cows into only being useful for three years rather than ten or more, to chicken ranchers who have to administer antibiotics routinely, to piggeries where the stench is overwhelming both from the pigs and the garbage that is a regular part of their diet. There are three answers to this conundrum. All of us need to become vegetarians or, laws need to be made and enforced which prevent egregious cruelty or, educate consumers of what their buying choices mean to animals.

    Becoming vegetarians is off the table. We have some laws on the books regarding how our animals are treated but, they need strengthening and monitoring. We do have a third choice. There is movement afoot to buy locally produced foods.

    Locally grown foods won’t necessarily mean we won’t continue to see animal abuse but, it will definitely reduce the incidence. Each of us makes a choice when we buy our meat. Where does it come from? How was it produced? How did it go to slaughter? If your chicken comes from Arkansas and you live in New York, then you aren’t going to have a clue to the answers to the above questions. If restaurants brag about their sources and, the sources are local, then we are moving in the right direction. It also means higher costs. You are trading economy for taste, reducing animal cruelty, and return of family farms. I wonder how many are willing to put their cash down for what they know is right as opposed to what is cheap?

    Some of the other comments are however, specious. I seriously doubt however, anyone would consider it cruel to slaughter a chicken at 8 weeks rather than at 16 weeks. Just as we have wheat that matures at 10 inches, produces more, and has a higher nutritional score, we are altering our meat animals in the same way. Leg problems are fixable with the right diet. The giant white turkeys aren’t around long enough to have sex anyway. What I don’t like is the narrowing of choice in order to compete. Rhode Island reds just don’t cut it anymore. Now there are only two main breeds of chicken today. Two breeds of chicken which can be raised and still be economically viable either in producing eggs or meat. So what happens if those breeds are suddenly wiped out because of a virus? Whether that virus is bird flu or some other scourge, we have put all of our eggs in one basket and that basket could just be run over by a steamroller.

  12. #12 Ann
    February 7, 2008

    pauls lane

    I love to hunt, too. My favorite is elk.

  13. #13 revere
    February 7, 2008

    pauls: I also consume my share of Wild Turkey. Helps when reading the Comment Threads.

  14. #14 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    ROFLMBO I personally choose a nice Talisker, but whatever works.

  15. #15 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    ROFLMBO I personally choose Wild Goose, but whatever works.

  16. #16 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    ROFLMBO I personally choose Grey Goose, but whatever works.

  17. #17 phytosleuth
    February 7, 2008

    We don’t have farmed elk anymore in Montana (was banned?), and wasting syndrome not in our wild elk or deer yet, but I think it does occur in Wyoming/Colorado?

  18. #18 Luna_the_cat
    February 7, 2008

    FWIW, the chickens where I worked really didn’t get plenty of room for most of their lives; up until about 10 weeks’ age it wasn’t too bad for them, but they got more and more packed in after that until you were lucky if there were a few inches between chickens, in the whole building. We had to move them all outside for 1/2 hour or so every morning (easiest way to spot the damaged or broken-legged ones anyway) to wash down the sheds and then we just spread the food all over the floor, and there were at least half a dozen watering stations — because once back in, they weren’t going to be moving around a lot. It wasn’t the best farm in the world, that’s for sure.

    And, there were very explicit rules prohibiting “downed” birds going into the slaughter; in fact, the owner actually weeded out any bird which had sustained significant bleeding injury, close to the slaughter time, even if it was still fully mobile. She (yes, it was a woman) was perfectly happy to game the system over the antibiotic use because she could find excuses, but to have violated the rules over what animals were and weren’t legal in terms of injury could get her certification pulled, and she didn’t want to lose the business.

    This is one reason why I tend to think that sensible regulation can work.

  19. #19 caia
    February 7, 2008

    Shannon — The good or bad news (depending on how you look at it) is that rising transportation costs are making local foods more competitive — even if that is because non-local foods are rising in price.

    The outright good news is that local food movement is growing. People are recognizing that it is more sustainable (and fresher) to eat local. If you’re in the U.S., you can search for local producers/farmers markets/CSAs, and restaurants or grocery stores that feature local food at LocalHarvest.Org.

    When it comes to chicken sizes, one of my cookbooks has recipes that call for either 4oz or 6oz chicken breasts (or I suppose they call them breast halves). If you buy organic and/or local chicken, you can find packages where they average about 6oz, but I have yet to encounter the mythical 4oz breast. I suppose it doesn’t matter, really, but in a recipe that calls for pan-frying a 4oz breast, you have to cook it much longer (and maybe dry it out) or cut up the breast, which changes the character of the dish.

  20. #20 K
    February 7, 2008

    Actually I have heard from someone who writes for commercial poultry breeders that most chickens are harvested at 8 weeks and some as early as 6 weeks. Most of the increase in size is breeding. We got a few chicks of this type to raise when some classroom teacher hatched them but then couldn’t hatchet them. They seemed monstrous to us and we hatcheted them at probably 10 weeks or less because they could barely walk – that was without hormones or antibiotics. Meanwhile our domestic but non-commercial chicks at 8 weeks are probably about 1/2 lb. Certainly no more than a bite or two if you tried to eat them. The contrast is stunning to say the least.

  21. #21 K
    February 7, 2008

    As a side issue, it takes about 3 lbs grain to make 1 lb chicken meat. So a 4 lb chicken represents 12 lbs grain. When you slaughter 100 chickens (and buried them or burned them) you have then thrown out 1,200 lbs of grain. Do the numbers on the culls for the last few years and the amount of wasted grain is immense.

    While I think wild birds is a major vector, I think that overcrowding of genetically same or similar birds has given H5N1 the perfect population in which to propagate itself. The pictures I see of commercial chicken houses in SE Asia don’t seem to have the same birds that are grown here for meat or eggs. I suspect they are not quite as vulnerable as the USA chicken population would be.

  22. #22 pauls lane
    February 7, 2008

    LOL – does it really revere?! Can I take that as official guidance from a public health official?

  23. #23 Annodeus
    February 7, 2008

    I’m all for humane methods of animal husbandry, but I don’t buy the connection to bird flu. Usually, Revere, when you make statements like that you link back to earlier posts. I’d like to see what you’ve got.

    I wish I could agree with Shannon that buying “locally grown” is a solution. But it’s hard to imagine that movement ever reaching any kind of “tipping point” so as to make a difference on a significant scale. I would love to be proven wrong.

  24. #24 revere
    February 7, 2008

    Annodeus: I think I’ve discussed it here a number of times but don’t have the links easy to hand (about par for the course for my chronic state of disorganization). The reasoning, though, is fairly simple. H5N1 is extraordinarily virulent in poultry and kills them very quickly. In modern industrial poultry production, with birds so close together they cannot help put transmit virus at high levels this doesn’t matter. The birds can get infected and transmit before they die, even when the serial interval is short. This is the same explanation as they WWI trench/barracks amplification of 1918 flu. There have been a number of models done of the poultry industry (although I haven’t discussed them here) and they tend to show the same thing: it is a perfect set up for spread and maintenance of bird diseases, including H5N1, when spread is density dependent. I’m not sure that is enough to satisfy you, since you sound skeptical. What do you think is the relationship or not with industrial poultry production? (this isn’t a challenge, just a curious question).

  25. #25 revere
    February 7, 2008

    pauls: Not official guidance. There is significant controversy over whether Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Makers Mark or a couple of others are best to consume. I happen to like Wild Turkey (Rare Breed) but I’m not an expert in poultry science.

  26. #26 Dizzlski
    February 7, 2008

    Hmm…so if we moved the farms to the Moon we could have bigger chickens which could also walk; we then could: get them into a large enough ball, hurl them to Earth, and dine upon the meteorically prepared feast. I think this would work with more than just chickens.

  27. #27 SaddleTramp
    February 7, 2008

    Shannon, I think you missed my point. K didnt. Butchering doesnt magically occur on a specific date, 100 percent of the time, but with the VT breed (and others, I suspect), if you miss it, the bird cant support its weight and just pretty much sits there. The difference of only a week can be surprising. FWIW, I dont think these animals are being commercially raised. Yet.

    Now, as to your comment that White Turkeys “arent around long enough to have sex” – where do you think baby turkeys come from?

  28. #28 K
    February 7, 2008

    Saddle Tramp – baby white turkeys come from artificial insemination. The turkeys are incapable of sex on their own – I think a combination of size, leg problems and terminal stupidity – But think about it – some people somewhere have the job of coaxing sperm out of male turkeys. Less dangerous than bulls I suppose, but how is it done?? I have no clue – but have Google.


    Low fertility in turkeys, resulting from unsuccessful mating as a consequence of large, heavily muscled birds or of reduced libido, is a serious and costly problem in the production of hatching eggs. Artificial insemination (AI) is widely used to overcome this problem. AI has not found wide application in chickens but is routinely used in special breeding work.
    Collecting semen from a chicken or turkey is done by stimulating the copulatory organ to protrude by massaging the abdomen and the back over the testes. This is followed quickly by pushing the tail forward with one hand and, at the same time, using the thumb and forefinger of the same hand to “milk” semen from the ducts of this organ. Semen flow response is quicker and easier to stimulate in chickens than in turkeys. The semen may be collected with an aspirator or in a small tube or any cup-like container. In turkeys, the volume averages ~0.35-0.5 mL, with a spermatozoon concentration of 6 to >8 billion/mL. In chickens, volume is 2-3 times that of turkeys, but the concentration is about one-half. Collected semen is usually pooled.
    Chicken and turkey semen begin to lose fertilizing ability when stored >1 hr. Liquid cold (4°C) storage of turkey and chicken semen can be used to transport semen and maintain spermatozoal viability for ~6-12 hr. When using liquid cold storage for >1 hr, turkey semen must be diluted with a semen extender at least 1:1 and then agitated slowly (150 rpm) to facilitate oxygenation; chicken semen should be diluted and then cooled—agitation is not necessary. Several commercial semen extenders are available and are routinely used, particularly for turkeys. Extenders enable more precise control over inseminating dose and facilitate filling of tubes. Results may be comparable to those using undiluted semen when product directions are followed. Dilution should result in an insemination dose containing ~300 million viable spermatozoa.
    For insemination, pressure is applied to the left side of the abdomen around the vent. This causes the cloaca to evert and the oviduct to protrude so that a syringe or plastic straw can be inserted ~1 in. (2.5 cm) into the oviduct and the appropriate amount of semen delivered. As the semen is expelled by the inseminator, pressure around the vent is released, which assists the hen in retaining sperm in the vagina or the oviduct. Due to the high sperm concentration of turkey semen, 0.025 mL (~2 billion spermatozoa) of undiluted pooled semen, inseminated at regular intervals of 10-14 days, yields optimal fertility. In chickens, due to the lower spermatozoon concentration and shorter duration of fertility, 0.05 mL of undiluted pooled semen, at intervals of 7 days, is required. The hen’s squatting behavior indicates receptivity and the time for the first insemination. For maximal fertility, inseminations may be started before the initial oviposition. Fertility tends to decrease later in the season; therefore, it may be justified to inseminate more frequently or use more cells per insemination dose.
    Chicken and turkey semen may be frozen, but reduced fertility limits usage to special breeding projects. Under experimental conditions, fertility levels of 90% have been obtained in hens inseminated at 3-day intervals with 400-500 million frozen-thawed chicken spermatozoa.

  29. #29 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    The slaughter date is most definitely cast in cement for breeds bred to be meat. After that date you start to have conversion losses in feed to weight gain. A commercial grower can’t afford to make that mistake. They simply slaughter and freeze. They also have buyers lined up to purchase their birds well in advance. The chickens don’t sit around and wait for a buyer.

    As for the turkeys, they are artificially inseminated.

    The broad-breasted Giant White.
    Most turkeys raised for food have been genetically selected to have large breast meat, and they are unable to fly or reproduce without artificial insemination. They are fed a mix of corn and soybeans during their short life. Over 260 million turkeys were slaughtered for food in 2003 in the United States, most at about 14–18 weeks of age. Commercial, domestic hens (or female turkeys) weigh 15–18 pounds by 14–16 weeks of age, and heavy toms (or male turkeys) weigh 25-32 pounds by 16–18 weeks.

    Just and FYI
    I raise all kinds of poultry for my own use. I too only raise rare breed birds. The beauty of a backyard grower is the freedom to choose a duel breed that is lovely to look at as well as well good for eggs and meat.

  30. #30 Shannon
    February 7, 2008

    The date of six weeks is correct for the birds you were speaking of in one of your posts. Scary. These are available not only to commercial growers but to you as well.

    You can order these today from Murray McMurray Hatchery
    This is the most remarkable meat producing bird we have ever seen. Special matings produce chicks with broad breasts, big thighs, white plumage, and yellow skin. The rapid growth of these chicks is fantastic and the feed efficiency remarkable. Whether you get these Cornish X Rock chicks for your own pleasure or to raise and sell, you can’t do better. If you want to raise capons, buy males and have them caponized at 2 or 3 weeks of age. Females have a fine smooth finish when dressed and reach beautiful roasting size. Buying straight run chicks gives you some of each sex so that you can take advantage of the strong points both ways. We think our Cornish X Rock chicks are among the finest meat birds in America. We should know. We fill our family freezers with them every year! Males will dress from 3 to 4 pounds in six to eight weeks and females will take about one and one-half weeks longer to reach the same size. Please Note: These birds are not recommended for raising at altitudes above 5000 feet.

  31. #31 gharris
    February 7, 2008

    I had a ‘herd’ of about 40 wild turkeys walk across my back yard this morning – they were magnificent!

  32. #32 DuWayne
    February 7, 2008

    revere –

    Knob Creek is up there, but Basil Haydon, though not an overproof, is, bar none, the very best. I went on a bent a few years back and made a valiant effort to try every small batch bourbon out there. I am quite certain that I missed a few, but probably not many. The only one that I know of that I am still missing is Baker’s. Bookers came close to the Basil Haydon, but it just isn’t as sippable.

  33. #33 Luna_the_cat
    February 8, 2008

    ….there is an alcohol out there called Knob Creek…?


  34. #34 revere
    February 8, 2008

    DuWayne: OK. I”ll look for it. Don’t know I’ve ever seen it around. Thanks.

  35. #35 pauls lane
    February 8, 2008

    After reading K’s turkey and chickien sex primer, I wonder how many belts of hard liquor their partners need before the act. 🙂

  36. #36 Pete A
    February 8, 2008

    Wierd – I so thought the answer to the question was gonna be “.. Because a culler just wrung his neck !”

  37. #37 Annodeus
    February 8, 2008

    Revere, last summer I was at a 4-H county fair in Virginia where the poultry exhibitions had been cancelled due to an outbreak of low-path bird flu elsewhere in the state. One of the unhappy would-have-been exhibitors had put up fliers “explaining” to visitors that backyard poultry raising (like his) was safe and that bird flu only appears in factory farms.

    As you know, in Asia, backyard poultry are MUCH harder to deal with than commercial operations in terms of both prevention and control of outbreaks. To quote WHO: “…control measures – including bird-proof, ecologically controlled housing, treatment of water supplies, disinfection of all incoming persons, equipment, and vehicles, prevention of contact with insects, rodents, and other mechanical vectors – cannot be applied on small rural farms and backyard holdings.”

    I recall you saying a while ago that there was evidence that factory farming was involved in the original emergence of the current H5N1, which is a different issue. But I understand that the 1997 version (which first sickened humans) was the result of interacting strains in geese, ducks and quail (and I don’t think they were factory farm geese, ducks and quail). And the next strain that affected humans (in 2002) was traced to waterfowl in Hong Kong nature parks. See http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no01/05-1024.htm

    The idea that big, bad factory farming is responsible for H5N1 is appealing because it fits so neatly into many people’s political/moral frameworks. But that don’t make it true.

  38. #38 revere
    February 8, 2008

    Annodeus: “he idea that big, bad factory farming is responsible for H5N1 is appealing because it fits so neatly into many people’s political/moral frameworks. But that don’t make it true.”

    Absolutely correct. But I think the evidence is that these operations are made to order bioreactors for transmissible disease. The same is true for schools, arge cities and slums. I like large cities and schools, don’t care for slums but all are risk factors for perpetuating transmissible diseases. So I’d say that just because something is morally repugnant doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a stimulus for spread and maintenance of infectious disease, too. Two wrongs can make a third wrong.

  39. #39 paiwan
    February 8, 2008

    Revere: You have pretty good smell of finding problem, perhaps the instinct of a medical doctor.

    Poultry production and its protocol is the area of problem, good smell. This thread has established the first important move and we are going to fathom BF problem, serious. This is based on my 33 years work experiences in live animal production and sensibility.

    Growth and environmental control in poultry are only minor points, the major point is that the evolution of chicken thru poultry production. Because the biosecurity in poultry has prevented the chicken the pressure of diseases resistant, they become very naive especially to BF virus.

    I have voiced before here in this blog, that the future solution for BF need the collaborations between WHO and FAO. My viewpoints remain the same.

    It is the time to re-engineer poultry for the good of every one.

    I further would like to voice that we should divert our focus more in H2H area, as you are rightly pointing school, arge cities and slums to order bioreactors for transmitting virus. In fact, I can add the hunger and malnutrition in some areas could be the same bioreactors.

    H2H is much more difficult than BF, chickens could be culled all, for instance, but not human beings.

    Our knowledge in H2H is very primitive. What I have concerned most is we assuming that the effort we have put in BF prevention would replace the challenge that we have in H2H.

    Therefore my opinion to let FAO and Vet people to share more responsibility in BF will let the public health agenda has the energy to deal with H2H which is more critical and yet lots unknown until now

  40. #40 K
    February 8, 2008

    I think it is important to distinguish factory farming in SE Asia/China from factory farming in the US. From what I have seen in pictures, there are large farms that have multiple birds in open pens that are fairly crowded. However they are not like the enclosed factory farm houses in the US. The biosecurity is no doubt much more lax, but it looks like the birds are somewhat more hardy than the “6 week to 3 lbs” type in the US. I am just going by what I see in pics. Of course when a poultry house in SE Asia has 1,000 birds drop dead overnight and are offered something to kill the rest they may well be glad to take it. But when a backyard poultry person in SE Asia has a culler from the gov’t come and say I am killing your few birds, they are probably going to “hide them” or “eat them”. I suspect that payments for 1 or 2 birds are slow to come. Meanwhile there is a large industry (betting, selling, entertainment) with a long cultural background for fighting cocks. The people who own these birds will be even lest trusting that they would get what their prime birds are worth to them, and do not want to loose all the breeding that went into a winning line of fighting birds.

    Back here in the US our factory birds are probably more vulnerable genetically but biosecurity is stronger. However corporate greed can bypass all that (as it did in England) and bribes and influence peddling flow here in the west just as they do in SE Asia. Backyard flocks are more spread out than in Asia except perhaps in areas near to Mexico. Fighting flocks are still kept, especially in the south here and the owners feel pretty much the same as those in SE Asia – a trio of game birds could sell from $100 to $1000 or more depending on how well the breeder’s birds do in fights.

    H5N1 did not get incubated in the factory farms of the West, but rather got a boost in the more open factory farms of SE Asia or in their extensive backyard flocks or both. It is a bad idea to have too dense a population of any species, especially when genetic diversity is minimal. Just because the West factory farms aren’t the source doesn’t mean they are safe from incubating some other nasty. And should they get infected with H5N1 they will no doubt drop faster than the ones in Asia.

    What would keep the world safer from pandemics is good basic health care, sanitation and less humans and their domestic animals. We and our animals are way too dense. How could we get less dense now that Bush has nixed promoting family planning – Ah a pandemic would do that.

    So it goes….

  41. #41 DuWayne
    February 9, 2008

    Oy, it’s not your average liquor store fare. I haven’t seen it since I moved to Portland. The only place I could find it back in Michigan, was a party store that carried all the high end scotch. They carried several of the small batch bourbons too, but I had to get them to special order a couple of them.

    Out here the state monopolies are worse than they were back home. Washington seems to be even worse. It is a huge ordeal for them to do special orders and it makes it tough. Not that I’m drinking these days anyhow, since momma’s breast feeding again. I feel kind of bad drinking when she can’t.

  42. #42 paiwan
    February 9, 2008

    K: The poultry is the source of H5N1 bioreactor, the worst scenario when we have failed to re-engineer poultry protocl, just cull them all. Or force the stop of the prouction of poultry industry. Thing maybe not so pessimitic, because scientific progress in metagenomics and evolutionary genetics would offer much better solution that I could prophesize.

    H2H transmission, the virus bioreactor is human beings. We can not cull people. Hunger, malnutrition, war, the enlarged gap between rich and poor, etc. These are the areas that science offers least solution. K. What do you think about the best solution that people could help each other and protect each other.

    Honest to say, I am not much concerned BF. I am concerned H2H pandemics caused by human beings ourselves.

  43. #43 PFT
    February 10, 2008

    “Sixty percent of global livestock production, including chicken and pig “confined animal feedlot operations” (CAFOs), now occur in the developing world. Unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage these CAFOs or factory farms are moving closer to major urban areas in China, Bangladesh, India, and many countries in Africa, said the report, “Vital Signs 2007-2008″ by the Worldwatch Institute.

    In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane. In Nigeria, the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation. It spread from that 46,000-bird farm to 30 other factory farms, then quickly to neighbouring backyard flocks, forcing already poor farmers to kill their chickens, Nierenberg writes in the report.

    Rising incomes, populations and demand for meat has resulted in the global poultry population quadrupling since the 1960s to about 18 billion birds today. Once mostly raised under free-range conditions or in backyards by very small producers, most poultry are now kept in large flocks numbering several hundred thousand. ”

    Extracted from


    See link below.



    ” In 1980, nearly all chickens in China were raised outdoors in small, traditional backyard flocks.(3) By 1997, though, the year H5N1 arose in Hong Kong, approximately half of the now 10 billion chickens(4) in China were intensively confined(5) in more than 60,000 industrial facilities, a few of which raised more than 10 million chickens at a time.(6) ”

    THis is from William Endahls “Seeds of destruction”

    In 2005, George Bush duped the public into believing a so-called Avian (bird flu) epidemic threatened a pandemic if not addressed. The solution as always is turn to the private sector and reward his friends. In this case, he asked Congress to appropriate an emergency $1 billion taxpayer dollars for a drug Tamiflu. Unmentioned was a key fact. It was developed and patented by Gilead Science and, that prior to becoming Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld was its chairman and still a major stockholder.

    The scare combined with government funding and a rising stock price stood to make him a fortune just as Dick Cheney profited as Vice-President from his Halliburton ties. Engdahl asked: “Was the avian flu scare another Pentagon hoax” with an unknown aim? Based on known and suppressed past government actions, “a supposedly deadly” new flu strain “had to be treated with more than a little suspicion.”

    It was being used to advance global agribusiness and poultry factory farm interests “along the model of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods.” Consider the facts. Factory farms are breeding grounds for potential disease proliferation because of their cramped, overcrowded conditions, but this was never mentioned as a threat. Instead, small family-run free-ranging chicken farmers were cited as culprits, especially in Asia, when, in fact, that notion is at least very unlikely.

    Small farms like these are the safest, but an industry-government propaganda campaign claimed otherwise. The scheme is clear. Five multinational giants dominate US chicken meat production and processing – Tyson (the largest), Gold Kist, Pilgrim’s Pride, ConAgra Poultry and Perdue Farms. They produce chicken meat under “atrocious health and safety conditions.” According to the GAO, these plants had “one of the highest rates of injury and illness of any industry.”

    Cited was exposure to “dangerous chemicals, blood, fecal matter, exacerbated by poor ventilation and often extreme temperatures….(In addition, chickens are tightly cramped and) prevented from moving or getting any exercise on factory farms (so they can) grow….much larger (and faster) than ever before.” Growth boosters are also used, they create health problems, and growing numbers of animal experts believe these farms, not small Asian ones, are the real source of dangerous new diseases like avian flu. That information is suppressed in the mainstream so the public is duped.

    It’s so chicken processing giants can globalize world production with the avian flu scare “gift from heaven” to help them. If small Asian chicken farmers can be squeezed out, Tyson and the others can access the huge Asian poultry market. That’s their aim and removing competition their method with help from friends in high places.

    Creating the first GMO animal population is also part of the scheme with the prospect of transforming world chickens into GMO birds. Engdahl put it this way: “By 2006, riding the fear of an avian flu human epidemic, the GMO or Gene Revolution players were clearly aiming to conquer the world’s most important source of meat protein, poultry.” But another scheme to dominate world food production also lay ahead. “Terminator was about to come into the control of the world’s largest GMO agribusiness seed giant.”

    So it could be the backyard chicken farms are getting a bad rap, and is a conspiracy to put them out of business and expand big agribusiness factory farms and Big Pharma (more antibiotics are sold to farms for animals than to people)

  44. #44 Christopher Gwyn
    February 10, 2008

    to meet consumer demand

    I am very very skeptical that chicken breeding, or any other ‘market-driven’ decisions, are a response to consumer demand. The breeding of chickens is an evolutionary process, with humans supplying the selection factors in response to a perceived ‘market niche’. Companies that perceive a market niche that does not exist fail. Companies that perceive a market niche that matches a consumer willingness to buy prosper, at least for awhile. As a consumer I am willing to buy lots of different things, many of which are not available – just as many species are willing to eat lots of things that are not typically available in their environment (as evidenced by exotic species adapting to new environments). That willingness to buy (or willingness to eat) does not cause the availability of the product or food, it merely allows for consumption if that product or food becomes available.

  45. #45 Susan Och
    February 13, 2008

    I raised some Cornish Cross meat birds last summer. It was a very different chicken rearing experience. Those birds simply have no “off switch” on their appetites. They would eat until they passed out with their heads in the food dish. Here is a picture of the difference in size after only a few weeks. We had some that had leg problems at only ten days. I had to ration the feed more closely and give them extra B vitamins.

    This is what they looked like at 8 weeks. We didn’t time the project very well, as they should have been slaughtered then, but we don’t like to slaughter in the heat of summer.

    When we did slaughter in September, they were huge, and I wasn’t sure if they would fit in the freezer, so we only did the roosters. We had 5 roosters to kill, but they were so delicate that on died the night before, apparently from the stress of being caught and carried. So we killed 4 roosters, and I thought it was great because the hens started laying eggs the next day, well before our laying birds the same age had begun to produce.

    Cornish cross are not a laying breed, though, and my plan to keep some meat “on the hoof” instead of in the freezer was a bust. Very soon those hens were laying very large eggs and two got “egg-bound” and died. One more died of no apparent reason, it didn’t even get sick, just died one night. The last hen is still in the barn, not very mobile, but surviving along with the layers.

    I would characterize the whole project as a flop, except for one thing. The meat was amazing. I saved the smallest rooster to roast whole, all 13 pounds of it, and it was our Thanksgiving dinner. The meat was tender and nearly without fat. I packaged the rest of them as legs, skinless split breasts, soup bones, and stock. With three of us home now, one split breast, about a pound and a half of meat, makes a meal with leftovers.

    Would I raise these birds again? Probably not. With the price of corn going so high, it makes more sense for a backyard bird to grow a little slower and be less dependent on the feed store. If I was growing grain for market, I would raise these birds again, but start them later in the year so that they would be slaughtered in October. Do I think that breeding these birds is intrinsically wrong? No worse than the overbred specimens in the dog world.

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