If you want to raise poultry, you are going to have to learn a lot of different vocabulary words. One of the more common terms you’ll hear deals with “broilers.” This term does not relate to a single bird per se, but rather a whole genre of chickens.
You might be wondering what a broiler chicken is, what it’s for, and whether you have a broiler breed yourself. Don’t worry. This quick article will tell you everything you need to know about this chicken genre.
What is a broiler chicken?
Broiler chicken breeds are birds that are specifically grown for meat production. More specifically, they are meat birds that age quickly and are typically sent to the slaughter between 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Because these birds are specially made for poultry distribution, it’s not surprising to find out that the vast majority of chicken meat sold commercially in the United States comes from broiler chicken breeds.
Are broiler chickens healthy?
While it is possible to have broiler breeds that are healthy, the truth is that many of them are not healthy. Even if they are well cared for, their genetic makeup was often heavily inbred for specific traits like more breast meat or faster growth. This led to a lot of problems.
It’s true that they are mostly raised for meat protein, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. If you have a broiler chicken, you need to be on the lookout for these issues below:
- Cardiovascular problems. Many broilers do not have a good match between their hearts and the organs that provide the energy for their hearts to beat. As a result, sick broilers can die fairly suddenly simply due to their growth pattern.
- Skeletal deformities. Because they are bred for breast meat, broiler chickens often start having a forward lean due to their center of gravity being pushed forward. This can lead to long-term deformities, including difficulty walking.
- Lesions. Because chickens are often kept in close quarters, they get lesions on their bodies.
- Immune system issues. Depending on the breeding, you may also notice your broilers getting sicker and sicker on average. This won’t reflect the nutritional value of the meat, but it does mean your chicken won’t live too long, even with good healthcare.
Most broiler chickens are killed before they reach breeding age. If you want to breed them, you will have to get them to full maturity. These are known as breeder-broilers and they are typically artificially inseminated.
Why are broilers so sickly?
It is partly due to their rapid breeding cycles and partly due to the conditions that they live in. Many broiler breeds are not bred for health or longevity. Rather, they are bred to grow quickly and have a short life cycle for easy slaughter and replacement.
Do broiler chickens get broody?
Broiler chickens typically don’t live long enough to fully mature and produce eggs. As a result, broodiness is not something that chicken keepers tend to worry about when they choose to raise broiler chickens.
When broiler hens are actually left to grow to adulthood, things can change. Their broodiness is fairly hit-or-miss. Since artificial insemination tends to be the way they reproduce, this still remains a nonissue.
Broiler hens are fairly short-lived, too. They are allowed to live for up to 1.5 years. Most other broilers only last about 40 days before they are killed.
How do you care for a broiler chicken?
If you want to raise broilers, you will need to give them a very vitamin-rich diet with a low-fiber feed. It’s not just for meat quality. It’s also for the quality of their life. The right feed can help reduce the number of health problems they have.
Broilers tend to require more food and water than a typical chicken needs. Most industrial companies will feed them four times a day, replenishing their water when they do it. Be careful: broilers can eat themselves sick—or even die by overeating. Small portions are best.
In terms of their actual living environment, broilers are best left in a free-range situation. However, that doesn’t mean that they always thrive outdoors. They are typically kept in a large, well-ventilated barn with moving space.
The best practice for broiler chicken care is to give them lots of space. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. The less space they get, the less healthy they tend to be and the more stressed they tend to be.
Adult broilers are often highly stressed, leading them to peck at feathers and do other injurious things. Unethical breeders may then decide to trim their beaks—an exceptionally painful procedure designed to prevent them from injuring themselves further.
What does a broiler chicken look like?
Most broiler chicken breeds are white with yellow skin, red combs, and red wattles. They tend to lay brown or white eggs exclusively. Some rarer broiler breeds may also have brown or black skin, though yellow skin remains the most common variation.
The important thing to remember about broiler chickens is that they tend to grow very large, and very fast. A typical broiler will be taken to the slaughter after it reaches between five to eight pounds. If left to grow to adulthood, you can expect broilers to exceed 10 pounds.
The exact traits of your broiler chicken will change depending on the specific type of breed you have. There are multiple breeds, all with their own nuanced differences.
How much do live broiler chickens cost?
Live broiler chickens tend to be some of the cheapest chickens to buy, primarily because they are almost exclusively used in industrial farming. You will spend an average of $2.25 buying a live chicken of this breed.
Are broilers a good chicken to raise with your family?
Unfortunately, no. Broilers are primarily used in industrial chicken farming. These birds are highly prone to health problems of all kinds and tend to be foul-tempered. Since they don’t live long and tend to self-injure, they are pretty bad for beginner chicken keepers.
Above all, it’s best not to keep broilers as pets unless they stem from a breed that is specifically known for a friendly disposition such as Plymouth Rock chickens. They can be very distant and fearful of humans. Whether this is due to their upbringing or nature remains to be seen.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that your children would probably find raising broilers extremely depressing. It’s not fun to have a pet that is so prone to sickness and so upset. Besides, the space requirements aren’t exactly feasible for most areas.
Is raising broiler chickens ethical?
This is starting to become a major debate among chicken keepers, animal rights groups, and veterinarians. The truth is that broilers rarely ever have a nice life. They are often sick, rarely get enough space, and also have their lives cut short by slaughter.
Broilers are bred with one specific purpose, and that’s meat. They are also the best solution we have for the growing demand for chicken meat, not to mention protein needs for pets like cats and dogs. Broilers make it possible for farmers to make affordable meat.
However, there’s a certain point where animal cruelty is hard to ignore. Many large-scale commercial chicken farming plants have crossed that line. This is why the debate has become so heated.
Poultry experts agree that broiler chickens can have a decent life and remain in decent health, but that it requires active participation from ethical chicken farming companies. They would have to ensure the following:
- Adequate space. You need to make sure that the chickens have enough space to wander around without overcrowding. This can help prevent lesions on their bodies.
- Proper ventilation. Many chicken facilities are heavy in ammonia and fecal matter. An ethical company will work hard to make sure that they are fairly sanitary.
- Better breeding. It is not ethical to breed chickens for breast meat until they can no longer walk. It’s also not okay to breed chickens that come from lineages involving cardiovascular problems. Veterinarians should check broiler breeders prior to breeding.
- Ending beak trimming. Beak trimming is extremely painful and traumatic for the birds. This shouldn’t be happening at all.
- High-quality feed. The pellets they eat should have all the vitamins they need to properly support their health.
Watchdog organizations are now starting to rank companies based on their ability to ethically produce broilers. This can help conscientious consumers better understand the conditions that their food came from.
Out of all the chicken breed categories out there, broilers are the most specific meat birds out there. They are designed not to be pets or egg layers, but rather, are meant to grow fast and be slaughtered for meat in less than two months.
Because of their poor health and quality of life quality, many people think raising broilers is an unethical thing. If you’re unsure of how you feel, do a little research on it.