Everything starts with an egg – a fertilized egg!
Everything starts with a broiler hatching egg. It’s called a broiler hatching egg because it will hatch into a chick that will be raised for meat (called a broiler or meat chicken). This type of chicken is specially bred for meat and looks quite different from the chickens who lay the eggs we buy at the store. The chickens that lay broiler hatching eggs are called broiler breeders hens and they’re raised with roosters in breeder barns. The breeder hens are about 24 weeks old when they start laying fertilized eggs in the nest boxes, and they’ll produce eggs for about 38 weeks. Each hen will lay 150-155 eggs during that time.
Eggs are collected daily and kept in cold storage at the farm. Once or twice a week all the eggs are delivered to hatcheries. The eggs are put into incubators and kept warm at 37.5°C. After 21 days, the eggs begin to hatch. Right after hatching, the chicks are sorted by size and they may be vaccinated to prevent illness. Within 6-12 hours of hatching, the chicks are put into heated trucks and taken to the chicken farms.
At the Chicken Farm
Registered chicken farmers follow the Raised by a Canadian Farmer national on-farm programs. These mandatory programs include food safety, animal care, and sustainability. Every farm is audited annually to ensure their records, practices, and facilities continue to meet the program standards. The penalties for not meeting the standards can be severe, including losing the right to raise chicken. Manitoba chicken farmers are committed to raising top quality birds.
Meat chickens are raised in large, specially designed barns. These barns are heated and ventilated to provide the proper temperature, humidity, and air quality. Farmers continually monitor feed systems, waterlines, heating, ventilation, humidity and other environmental levels to ensure the birds are comfortable and stress-free. Barn systems are computerized and most are programmed to send information and alerts straight to the farmer’s mobile device.
Raising chickens indoors keeps them safe from predators and helps prevent illness. It also means farmers can raise chickens year-round, even during Manitoba’s cold winters.
Meat chickens are free-run birds. This means they are not kept in cages. They roam freely throughout the barn on a floor covered by soft, dry straw. Fresh, clean water and feed are always available and the chickens are free to eat whenever they’re hungry.
After each flock, the barn and equipment are thoroughly cleaned. Barns are then left empty a week before a new flock arrives. Clean barns, and the downtime between flocks, helps keep the chickens healthy.
Raising Healthy Chickens
Manitoba farmers try to prevent illness in their flocks whenever possible. Clean barns, healthy chicks, good feed and clean water are important for preventing illness. If medication is needed, such as an antibiotic, chicken farmers must follow very strict regulations. Only the safest and most effective medications are used and they are used only when necessary. Chicken meat does not contain medications or residues.
The use of hormones in Canadian chicken was banned decades ago. Chickens are not given any hormones or steroids. Progress in raising chickens is the result of better breeding, good nutrition, improved farm management, and the prevention of illness.
Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat foods of both vegetable and animal origin. Creating a feed that best meets the nutritional needs of a chicken is a science.
All chickens are grain fed!
One kilogram of chicken feed contains about 880 grams of grains, oilseeds and the meal made from these seeds. The remaining ingredients include fats and oils, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. These ingredients are essential for a balanced diet, and give the feed a taste and texture that is acceptable to the chickens. No hormones or steroids are ever given to the chickens.
As the chickens grow, their nutritional needs change so the amount of each feed ingredient is adjusted to maintain optimal health. The average chicken eats almost 4 kilograms of feed to reach a body weight of 2 kilograms.
The colour of the chicken fat and skin changes with the type of grain chickens eat. Manitoba chicken farmers use a feed that is high in wheat and barley. These grains are responsible for white chicken skin and fat. Feed containing a high percentage of corn results in yellow skin and fat. Manitoba shoppers prefer wheat-fed chickens.
From Farm to Processor
Most chickens stay in the barns for about 32 days and weigh just under 2 kg before going to the processing company. They are shipped to the processing companies in trucks designed for carrying poultry. At the processing company, every chicken is checked by an inspector. The inspector makes sure the chickens are healthy and safe to eat. Manitoba has two large processing companies (Granny’s Poultry Co-operative and Dunn-Rite Food Products) and one smaller company (Waldner Meats).
Almost all the chicken raised in Manitoba is sold fresh in stores and restaurants in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. Less than 5% is exported to other countries.
Manitoba hatching egg and chicken farmers are part of a unique Canadian agricultural system called supply management. Supply management ensures registered farmers raise enough chicken to meet consumer demand. This means a consistent supply of locally raised chicken in Manitoba stores. Supply management also ensures farmers are paid fairly for what they produce. Farmers have a say in the price they get for chicken at the farm but they have no control over the cost of chicken at the grocery store. Store prices are set by the stores. The farmer’s share of the store price is only about 10%.
Hatching egg and chicken farmers receive no subsidies or any other type of taxpayer funded farm assistance.
Take a virtual visit to a Canadian farm
Tour a chicken farm and see how the birds are cared for. This farm is in Ontario but Manitoba chicken farmers follow the same standards and programs.