The Wall Street Journal this week carried a full-page story titled "Foul Nuggets? Blame Bigger Birds." It's about squishy breast fillets, so-called "spaghetti meat" and "woody breast" costing the poultry industry hundreds of millions of dollars in discarded product.
When naysayers tout industrial factory farm efficiency, they don't put these costs and losses on the balance sheet. Up to 30 percent--yes, you read that right--of the breasts have some anomaly. Researchers blame fast growth--the birds are growing so fast that the breast is developing faster than the oxygen and blood flow can service the new tissue.
Of course, "industry officials are confident that their high tech breeding operations eventually will be able to minimize the problems through genetic selection, the way the industry has resolved previous side effects of fast growth in birds, like weak leg bones and heart problems. The process, officials said, is likely to take another few years," according to the article.
I've grown these chickens all my life and it is indeed amazing what genetic selection has done. Of course, those initial leg problems were fought with antibiotics, in the industry. Here at Polyface, we dealt with it by feeding liver for additional B vitamins. I don't know if the industry gave antibiotics for the heart ailments or not, but here at Polyface we simply pulled feed away for a few hours a day to slow the birds' growth rate. That did the trick marvelously.
As to these breast issues, we are not seeing it. Same genetic base, but we're not having these problems. Why? Perhaps it's because we let the birds sleep.
You see, the industry never lets broilers (meat birds) be in the dark. Notice when you drive by those factory houses at night--a faint glow of lights is always apparent. This stimulates the birds to eat more, just like when you become deprived of sleep you tend to snack more. This technique enables the industry to grow a 6.3 pound bird in 47 days, a feat unheard of a mere 50 years ago.
Here at Polyface, our pastured birds--remember, they're the same genetics--grow about 25 or 30 percent slower. And they do not exhibit these problems. Is it really as simple as that? Perhaps. Stress may play a factor, as well as minimal nutrition rations, genetically modified organisms, or other things.
The pondering point for today is to realize that pastured birds enjoying the normal life cycles of nightly rest, exhibit a health and vitality that the industrial factory farmed birds can never attain. And their caregivers (people managers) never even consider a different production model; rather, they will continue tweaking the genetic selection process until only the ones able to handle the abuse have a chance to be born. As the researchers say, however, that could take years.
Meanwhile, here at our farm, we've already solved it simply by offering a more natural production model, a life that allows a chicken to be a chicken. A bird naturally goes to sleep at night; their high metabolism requires a good rest cycle. At its most fundamental paradigmatic level, the industry does not even consider the birdness of the chicken. At all. Therein lies the most insidious philosophy.
Are the chickens you buy allowed to sleep? Do you know?