WHAT ARE CHICKENS?
Chickens are domesticated fowl raised for their meat or eggs. Newly hatched chickens are called chicks. Immature male chickens are called cockerels and immature female chickens are called pullets. A
mature male chicken is called a rooster and a mature female chicken is called a
hen. Chickens have been genetically selected into highly specialized breeds for either
meat production, generally referred to as broiler chickens, or egg production, referred to as layers. This section discusses broiler chickens.
WHERE ARE CHICKENS PRODUCED IN BC?
Over 88% of the production of broiler chickens is located in the Fraser
Valley while 2% is produced on Vancouver Island and 10% in the
Interior of BC.
HOW MANY CHICKENS DO WE PRODUCE?
BC has over 323 commercial chicken producers. They produce almost
90 million chickens weighing a over 150 million kilograms (after
evisceration) with a farm gate value of over $300 million. If all the chickens produced in 1 year in BC
were standing in a line they would form a line more than 15,000
There are 58 producers who manage breeding flocks of hens and roosters. The breeding hens which lay fertilized eggs that are hatched into broiler chicks. Broiler breeder farmers produce about
90 million hatching eggs each year. Another 9 million hatching eggs to be hatched are
imported from the US. The hatching eggs are sold to hatcheries in BC where the fertilized eggs are incubated (or set)
until they hatch out.
About 10% of the chicken produced in BC is referred to as “Specialty Chicken”. This may be special breeds of chicken, such as Taiwanese Chicken or Silkies, or it may be chicken grown under specialized conditions such as free range or organic.
HOW ARE CHICKENS PRODUCED?
Broiler hatching eggs from the breeder farms are incubated in the hatchery for 21 days, at which time they hatch into baby chicks. The chicks are
vaccinated against some important diseases and may sometimes be sorted by sex.
The chicks are shipped in temperature-controlled trucks to the broiler farms.
Once on the farm, they are placed on clean litter in an environmentally controlled barn and grown out to about 2.2kg live weight in just over 5 weeks. During the first week of growth they are kept under
brooders, which are special heaters that keep the chicks warm. The
temperature is lowered each week until the birds are adequately
feathered to maintain their own body heat. Broiler chickens are provided fresh feed and water at all times. These birds consume
as little as 1.67 kg of feed for every kg of body weight produced over the
entire growing period.
HOW IS CHICKEN SOLD AND USED?
Chicken meat is sold as fresh or frozen retail outlets. It may be as whole birds or cut up
into breasts, halves, and drumsticks. It is also sold in a variety of further processed forms including nuggets, soups, and stews. Chicken can be served in a variety of dishes and can be fried, roasted, or broiled.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE CHICKENS LEAVE THE FARM?
The chickens are loaded into cages on a truck and taken to the
processing plant. At the processing plant they are placed on
shackles which move through the plant. The birds are electrically
stunned prior to slaughter to minimize suffering. The feathers and
internal viscera removed and all parts of the birds are inspected to ensure
that they are healthy and safe for human consumption. The inspection
is carried out by qualified Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO CHICKEN PRODUCERS FACE?
BC chicken producers have been faced with steady or declining prices and, at times,
competition from product coming in from eastern Canada. At the same time, chicken producers have been dealing with rapidly rising feed prices, which represent a significant part of their expenses. Increased costs and growth in market demand has
required producers to make major investments in new buildings and
equipments. For example, they use sophisticated computer technology to control the barn environment and to assist in managing their operations. All of these improvements are made to optimize conditions for the birds and maximize efficiencies.
WHO'S INVOLVED IN PRODUCING CHICKENS?
- Broiler breeder producers
- Chicken producers
- Equipment suppliers
- Trucking companies
- Government inspectors
- Restaurants, hotels, institutions, retailers, fast food
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Feed company nutritionists and fieldmen
- Government extension and provincial health veterinarians
- BC Avian Monitoring Laboratory
Interesting Fact About Chickens:
Chickens are highly efficient in converting feed to weight
gain. A chicken will use as little as 1.67kg of feed per kg of
body weight gain.
Chickens do not chew their food. The food is moistened in the crop, moves down the esophagus and into the proventriculus, an organ similar to our stomach, where digestive fluids are secreted. The moistened food then moves from the proventriculus into the muscular gizzard, where it is ground up. Chickens on a range it will eat grit, hard
particles like small stones, that aid in the breakdown of food in the gizzard.
Contacts and other resources: