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What to Know About the Broiler Chicken Growth Rate Debate

Large adult chicken with growing chicks in a free-range environment

If you are an experienced poultry producer, you likely already know that a debate has been heating up in the past few years over the growth rate of chickens raised for meat. And if you’re newer to growing broilers, or are considering jumping into the business soon, you may also be familiar. Of course, you probably still have questions, starting with, “what are the issues and arguments in this broiler chicken growth rate debate?”

As with many things in our culture at this moment, concerns about long-term sustainability and safety fueled by information (and perhaps some misinformation, too) made available online likely created the debate. However, some broiler producers had also begun questioning whether the idea that “faster growth is always better” when it comes to their chickens was totally right.

Today’s blog post highlights a few things broiler producers should know now as they look to the future of their business with regard to growth rate concerns.

What Are the Sides of the Broiler Chicken Growth Rate Debate?

There are two main sides to the broiler growth rate debate. On one side, the belief prevails that chickens should be grown more slowly to reach their target size—which is seen as more “natural” by consumers. On the other side, many poultry producers want to uphold the status quo of accelerated growth rates for the sake of profitability. This, unfortunately, pits consumers against growers.

Side 1: Consumers and Animal Welfare Groups

Though these two distinct groups are concerned about somewhat different things, they are both unhappy about the use of human antibiotics in animals. Consumers are more worried about food safety, while animal welfare groups are more concerned with how chickens are treated. Antibiotics tend to be used more heavily in faster-growing chicken breeds since they tend to have more health problems.

It’s true that broilers have already been bred through careful genetic selection to grow faster over the last 70-80 years, so many on this “slower growth” side of the debate are distrustful of growers who use quick-growing chicken breeds today since many are known to cut corners in production. They are also worried that necessary antibiotics to keep those chickens healthy may pass through the meat into the person consuming it, which could have unintended health consequences for the consumer.

Side 2: Broiler Growers and the Poultry Industry

Growing chickens to their mature size on a faster timetable has meant profitability for a long time in the poultry industry. Some producers wonder, “why stop now?” and are also wary of potential future bans on the use of certain drugs in their meat production.

In other words, producers do not want to lose the freedom to grow their birds—and make as much money as possible from them—in the ways that work best for their operations.

The question then is—who is right? Ultimately, it may not matter. For producers, following consumer trends by choosing slower growth for their birds, regardless of government and industry regulations, may be a smart plan for future business success.

Should Producers Use Antibiotics?

While some producers are working hard to defend their right to grow chickens in ways that have been successful in the past—by continuing to use antibiotics in production, for instance—evidence is pointing to “it may not be worth it” in the future. The growing consumer demand for antibiotic-free and organic meats may mean that more producers should consider curtailing antibiotics use.

Of course, you need to know what’s best for your operations.

Should Producers Choose More Moderate Growth Rate Broilers?

There are a lot of broiler breeds—specifically our Freedom Ranger chickens—that have been responsibly bred to grow at a healthy, moderate rate.

If you’re concerned about meeting consumer demand and being able to market broilers that don’t grow to their target size in record time, we encourage you to explore our breed choices.

Need Healthy, High-Quality Broilers to Start Your Business the Right Way?

Whether you have been in business for some time or are starting a new broiler chicken production operation, Freedom Ranger Hatchery is here to supply you with healthy birds. We also regularly publish helpful articles here on our blog to support your work in growing chickens for eggs or meat. Contact us with questions, or place your order today!