We don’t rush our chickens. They eat all-natural food, roam freely, and get nice and healthy on Mother Nature’s schedule. That’s how we’ve done things for many years, but it isn’t the industry norm. So earlier this year it was a pretty big deal in our industry when Whole Foods announced they ’re supporting new Global Animal Partnership (GAP) standards that will require all chicken producers to move away from fast-growth breeds if they want to be certified under GAP’s 5-Step® Rating Program. By 2024, Whole Foods will require their chickens to have a 23% slower growth rate than commercial, factory-farmed birds.
So what’s the problem with fast growth? Well, in the last 100 years or so, standard commercial chickens have been bred to grow faster so they’re ready for market sooner (allowing the producers to increase the number of birds they sell each year) while consuming less feed (cutting the cost to raise them).
A century ago it took about four months to grow a standard chicken; today the average for most commercial breeds is 42 days. That’s great for producing a lot of chicken, but not so great for the animals or consumers.
When chickens grow too fast, they can develop before their bones are ready to support all that weight, and many develop problems with their legs and joints, some to the point where they can’t walk. So the chickens suffer. In fact, Whole Foods predicts that this shift to slower growing birds will “improve the lives of 277 million chickens.”
The shift is also better for consumers because fast-growth chickens don't taste as good as slow-growth chickens. The slower growing process gives intramuscular fat time to develop in the meat, producing a juicier, more flavorful chicken with a superior texture (which is why slow-growth birds are preferred by chefs).
We learned all this a long time ago – we have many years of experience in slow growing chickens. Our Poulet Rouge Fermier™ chicken grows 100% slower than commercial breeds (84 days vs. 42 days), which far exceeds the Whole Foods and GAP standards. That’s why we’re excited that Whole Foods and others are switching to slow-growth chickens – it’s how we think all chickens should be raised.
Does all this mean that the poultry industry is doing away with industrialized farms and returning to more natural methods? No, but it's a step in the right direction, starting the industry down a path we’ve been forging for a long time, and we’re happy to see that happen.