There are a lot of stops along the way from the chicken farm to dining room table. From the hatchery where meat (or broiler) chickens are hatched, to barns on family farms where chickens are raised under the watchful eye of farmers and veterinarians, to processing, distribution and ultimately your local market or restaurant, chicken makes quite the journey to get from the chicken farm to your table!
Chickens begin their life in hatcheries, where fertilized eggs (not table eggs) are incubated and hatched into chickens that are raised for meat. These kinds of chickens are called “broiler” chickens. Once the chicks are hatched, they are transported to local farms where they live and grow, until they are big enough to be sold for meat.
Once situated in the barn at the farm, chickens roam, eat, drink and socialize with other chickens under supervision of farmers and veterinarians, who make sure the chickens are comfortable, healthy and growing well. (Note: Just like humans, chickens may fall ill and may be treated with antibiotics. Any meat from chickens sold in the U.S. is free of antibiotics. The USDA regulates withdrawal periods to ensure no meat you buy in the store contains antibiotics or antibiotic residue from animals that may have been treated with it. Note: No chicken you buy is ever given added hormones or steroids. In fact, the use of such added or artificial hormones is forbidden by law by the FDA.)
When the chickens grow to the ideal weight to be sold for meat (usually 4-7 pounds) they are collected and transported for processing. (Short transportation to the processing plant is the only time in a broiler chicken’s life that it spends in a cage, for the safety of the chickens while driving.) Once at the plant, chickens are processed quickly and humanely, and thoroughly washed, chilled and inspected by the USDA. Once USDA inspection is complete, chicken can receive the USDA seal for wholesomeness and can be distributed to local grocers and restaurants for purchase!
Learn more about the detailed inspection each piece of chicken you buy undergoes in this infographic about modern poultry inspection.
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