3d rendered illustration of Hen cartoon character with trolly

A chicken for 60 euros at the supermarket? It could happen if…

(part two)
We continue with the analysis of the differences between males born to ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ parents addressed in the first part of this article (which you can find at this link to the first part)


If we were to take males derived from the genetics of laying hens and put them together with chicks born from heavy breeders, we would notice – with equal treatment – a big difference in physical development.

They would be tiny animals compared to their siblings of different genetics. And it would be impossible, precisely because of gene issues, to even wait for them to develop like broilers which, we repeat, are the chickens bred for their meat and derived from the ‘heavy breeders’.

Protected (intensive) farms have very precise management, maintenance and renewal calendars, with established procedures to manage even the costs of that supply chain that brings us both eggs and meat with the continuity and qualities that would only be evident when we lack them. These attentions and procedures also guarantee the containment of costs that we find at the end of the supply chain when we stock up at the supermarket.

The male born of ‘light’ parents, if it had been raised together with its ‘heavy’ cousins, would not be purchased precisely because of its obvious poor developmental characteristics. And, although it is ugly to say, it would represent a significant cost… since it is not just one animal, but millions.

This kind of male is nowadays eliminated immediately for purely economic reasons. Breeding them would mean facing high costs that ‘the market’ (made up of us consumers!) would reject because the selling price is too high. This would result in a very significant loss, which would not be covered by the already meagre margins of the poultry system, which is committed to keeping prices low and the quality of eggs, meat and welfare of the reared animals high at the same time… in line with the precise and constant demands of the ‘market’.


Let us now go into even more detail to understand the issue of costs

We have already mentioned the term ‘conversion’ which, in this area, means the animal’s ability to translate what it eats and drinks into meat.

We will now clarify, even for those furthest away from this environment, the dimensions of the economic problem:

  • a male hatchling takes 140 days to reach a weight of 2000 kg while consuming 8 kg of feed and 17 litres of water. This male would still not be able to grow much more. The feed conversion is 4 kg of feed per 1 kg of live chicken.
  • It takes 34 days for a broiler (male or female is irrelevant), thus born of heavy breeding stock, to weigh the same 2 kg while consuming 2.7 kg of feed and 5 litres of water (it grows 1 kg in meat for every 1.6 kg of feed and 3 litres of water it feeds on); however, broilers can grow much more than this, up to 5 kg, and are slaughtered on average at 42 days at a weight of 2.8 kg with a total feed consumption of 4.5 kg. In this case, the feed conversion is 1.6kg of feed per 1kg of live chicken.

The ‘conversion’ translates into one fact: to reach the same weight (in meat) as a broiler takes a third of the time it would take to do so with a male derived from laying hens.

To have the same amount of meat provided by a broiler farm using males born from light breeding stock, it would require three times the space (breeding) and three times the time, feed and water.

To put it even more clearly, if we started at the same time to breed in two farms of the same size – e.g. 10,000 animals – on the one hand male laying birds and on the other hand broilers, when the male laying birds had reached the weight required by the market, in the meantime – and at the same time – the breeding of the broilers would have resulted in ‘three productions’ (30,000 animals).

If the system did not take care of these sensitive aspects demanded by consumers, it could easily avoid making constant investments to protect animals and customers, but on the other hand it would be faced with a significant increase in costs that the entire supply chain would inevitably have to pass on to the consumer. Hence the provocative title of this article.

In order to listen to all the objections of those who do not know what it means to breed and produce quality and respect for both the environment and consumers, and to guarantee the same availability of meat and eggs as we have today, the number and size of farms would have to be increased and the consumption of energy and feed would have to be increased (the longer the life of an animal, the more it needs food, water, space, energy for facilities).

We point out that there are many activities that can be defined as ‘experimental’ that try to apply some of the ‘change’ ideas heard by the detractors of poultry farming. These produce only a fraction of what is needed and must therefore be considered niche activities unrelated to the ‘industrial’ poultry system. However, these activities are possible thanks to a rib of the poultry industry itself, which makes itself available to these mini-projects involving a niche of consumers in order to assess what characteristics are acceptable to producers and consumers. The eggs of these mixed (commercial and system) ‘experiments’ are produced with criteria not unlike the vast majority of what is already in place in the industry, but imposing a fairly high final price with the aim of providing a profit considered fair to the farmer who joins the experiment. These are meritorious enterprises, but destined to remain niche for niche consumers. Intensively protected livestock farms, on the other hand, are designed to make meat and eggs accessible when the price and quantity available are affordable while maintaining high quality and food safety.

The poultry industry is able to manage all the variables involved so as not to detract from the quality of meat and eggs while keeping the price under control. And this can only be achieved by spreading the costs over large quantities. Every small farmer will testify to how complicated and costly it is to meet every point of animal welfare and food safety when the number of animals reared is very small.

Animal handling practices in the two indicated supply chains (heavy and light) are also constantly undergoing improvements related to respect for animal welfare and ‘saleability’ objectives.

Just as an example:

  • ovo sexing’ systems are being perfected, which should allow the sex of the future chick to be known before hatching, already when it is in the embryonic stage, in order to eliminate the egg and not the chick;
  • many male chicks hatched from laying hens are often directed towards a ‘capon career’ to satisfy canteen habits of various traditions;
  • other (light) male chicks are used as food for other animals (zoos and the like).

To limit costs to the consumer and guarantee quality, the industry is doing a lot. It does so, however, without saying so. This is perhaps its only major fault.


The Editorial Board of M.A.C.