The Production Complex
Our chicken production is typically carried out at complexes. Our complex
contains a feed mill, a hatchery, a processing plant, and chicken farms where the
chicks are raised, usually in a 30-40mi (48.3-64.4 km) radius from the processing
plant. We receive chicks from the hatchery and
house them in climate-controlled chicken houses. The houses are typically 400 x
50 ft (122 x15.24 m), and hold up to 20,000 chickens. The interior is open, with no
cages or partitions. When the chickens are old enough for slaughter, we collected
and shipped to the processing plant
Our broiler chickens are bred especially for meatiness, quick growth, and
weight gain. Most chickens used for meat that we export are a hybrid of Co mish
males and White Rock females. The hatchery houses a flock of thousands of
chickens. The hatchery building is a large open space similar to the house where
broilers are raised, except it contains many small houses set inside it, which look
like miniature versions of the traditional chicken coop. When the hens are ready to
lay, they seek shelter in the coop. The eggs are collected from the coops and taken
to incubate. The breeder hens live for about 45 weeks, after which they are no
longer considered productive. These "spent" hens are slaughtered and their meat is
usually used for pet food or bought by food companies that use cooked, diced meat
(such as in soups).
The eggs are placed in large walk-in incubators. The eggs are kept warm and
periodically rotated by machine. They begin to hatch in about 20 days. Shortly
before hatching, the eggs are transferred to drawers. Many processors now
inoculate chicks for diseases in ovum, that is, in the shell before they hatch. This is
usually done three days before hatching. The chicks peck their Way out of their
shells when they are ready. For their first several days of life, the chicks are still
absorbing nutrients from their yolk sacs, so they do not need food at this time.
Trays of newly hatched chicks are wheeled on carts to an inoculation area, where
they are sprayed with amidst of vaccine against common diseases. Some producers
"debeak" the chicks at this point, which actually means clipping the sharp tip off
the beak. This prevents the birds from damaging each other by pecking.
The chicks live in large houses which hold as many as 20,000 birds. These grow-
out houses are kept at about 85° F (29.4° C) through heating and ventilation controls. The
birds are not caged, and typically they are provided with approximately 0.8 sq ft per bird.
The floor of the house is covered with a dry
bedding material such as wood chips, rice hulls, or peanut shells. The birds are fed a diet
of chicken feed, which is typically 70% corn, 20% soy, and 10% other ingredients such
as vitamins and minerals
Chicken processing begins at the hatchery where hens lay eggs. The eggs are
collected and incubated until they begin to hatch in about 20 days. The chicks live in
large, grow out houses where they are fed a diet of chicken feed. After grow out, the birds
are conveyor through a stun cabinet. The mild electrical current in the water stuns or
paralyses the birds. Next, the birds are conveyed to an automatic neck cutter. The
carcasses hang until all the blood has drained and then they are defeathered. Next, they
are washed, cleaned, and immersed in cooled, chlorinated water for 40-50 minutes. fed
any steroids or hormones. Sick birds are treated with antibiotics or other medications.
These birds then go through a withdrawal period before slaughter, to make sure no
medication residue remains in their meat. The birds are usually watered through nipple
drinkers, so that they don't spill and wet their bedding.
The chicks live in the growing-out houses for about six weeks. Broiler chickens
have been bred for excessive weight gain, especially in their breasts and thighs. At six
weeks, the chicks usually weigh about 4 lb (1.8 kg), and are ready for slaughter.
Collecting of the chickens is usually done at night. Though a variety of mechanical
collectors have been developed, such as vacuum devices and plow-like chicken pushers,
the simplest and most effective way to get the chickens crated for transport to the
processing plant is to have farm employees enter the house and gather the birds by hand.
The workers catch the birds and stuff them into cabinet-like boxes. The boxes are
stacked, and a driver with a forklift picks them up and loads them onto a waiting truck.
The boxed chickens are stacked in the truck and driven to the processing plant. The
processing center of the chicken complex is generally no more than 30-40 mi (48.3-64.4
km) from the grow-out farm, so that the birds do not have to be driven an excessive
At the processing plant, workers take the birds from their boxes and hang them by their
feet on a conveyor belt. In a typical process, the birds on the conveyor are first passed
through a vat of electrified salt water called a stun cabinet. About 20 birds occupy the
stun cabinet at one time, and they remain in the water for about seven seconds. The mild
electrical current in the water stuns or paralyses
the birds. Next, the birds are conveyed to an automatic neck cutter—rotating blades that
sever the two carotid arteries. The birds' carcasses hang until all the blood has drained.
Defeathering and evisceration
The carcasses are then briefly immersed in hot water to scald the skins. This makes
removal of the feathers easier. The carcasses move to automatic feather pickers, which
are moving rubber fingers that rub off most of the feathers. Then the carcasses are
scalded a second time and run through another feather picker. Lastly, a specialized
machine removes the wing feathers. The defeathered carcasses next pass to a washer,
which scrubs the outside of the body. The feet and head are cut off, and the carcass is
conveyed to the evisceration area. Next, the carcass is suspended in shackles by the feet
and neck, cut open, and the viscera (internal organs) are removed. When the carcass is
empty, it is washed again inside and out by a multiple-nozzled sprayer.
Chilling and cutting
The cleaned carcasses are sent down a / chute and immersed in a "chiller" of cooled,
chlorinated water for 40-50 minutes. The entire slaughter process takes only about an
hour, and the bulk of that time is taken up by the chilling. The internal temperature of the
chicken must be brought down to 40° F (4.4°C) or lower before further processing. The
chilled carcasses are then passed to a cutting room, where workers cut them into parts,
unless they are to be packaged whole. Some carcasses may be cooked and the cooked
meat removed and diced for foods such as chicken pot pie or soups. Meat from backs,
necks, and wings may be processed separately for sale in other meat products such as hot
dogs or cold cuts. In whatever format, the meat is packaged by workers at the processing
plant, loaded into cases, and stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse.
Quality control is a particular important issue in our poultry farming because the end
product is raw meat, which has the potential to carry disease-causing microorganisms. To
prevent diseases in the chickens themselves, the chicks are vaccinated for common avian
diseases. Veterinarians visit the growing-out farms and tend to any sick birds.
Corporations that contract with the growing-out farms
Also typically send a service technician out on a weekly visit to each farm to monitor
conditions. Quality control at chicken-processing plants is done by the company and also
by inspectors from the US Department of Agriculture. A USDA inspector is
required to be in the plant whenever chickens are being slaughtered. The government
inspector examines the birds both before and after
Slaughter for obvious signs of disease and for injury, such as broken wings. The meat
from injured parts is not usable.
In a typical process, there are two critical control points where the company continually
monitors conditions. There may be additional control points as well. The first critical
control point is just before the cleaned carcass goes to the chiller. An inspector pulls
carcasses at random and visually inspects them under bright light. No fecal matter is
allowed on the carcass at this point. If any is found in the
random check, the production line must be stopped and all the birds that have gone
through the chiller since the last inspection must be rewashed and chilled. The second
critical control point is when the birds come out of the chiller. The internal temperature of
the carcass must be 40° F (4.4° C) or lower at this stage. Inspectors make random sample
checks to verify internal temperatures. Though these are the most important control
points, each plant designs its own quality control program, and inspectors may also
periodically verify the temperature of the scalding water, check the automatic equipment,
and whatever else the company deems necessary.
Until 2000, USDA inspectors at chicken processing plants were required to do only
what is called an organoleptic test of the chickens before and after slaughter. This
translates to looking and smelling; that is, inspectors verified that the birds were disease-
free and healthy by looking them over and perhaps giving the carcass a quick sniff.
In 2000, the USDA instituted a new quality control program for all meat processors known
as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, or HACCP. Under HACCP, in addition to the
organaleptic method, inspectors are also required to take periodic microbiological tests to
look for dangerous bacteria. The most problematic bacteria in chicken meat are
salmonella. Though this organism is killed with proper cooking of the meat, it can cause
illness if the consumer does not handle the meat properly. In the 1990s, 50% of all
chicken in USA was purported to be infected with salmonella. The industry
altered its quality control procedures, and brought the incidence down to 16% in 1996,
and to below
10% in 2000, according to the USDA. Under HACCP, chicken must be randomly
tested for salmonella at the production plant, and the rate of infection must be lower than
20%. Also under HACCP, USDA inspectors have the authority to shut down plants
that they deem dirty or unsafe. The plant is not allowed to re-open until it comes up with
a plan for remedying the situation. Some incidents that caused chicken processing plants
to be shut in 2000 included carcasses falling on the floor, rodent infestation of the
facility, and most commonly, failure to prevent fecal contamination.