Monday, June 3, 2013

Part 3 Traditional Chicken Farming versus Modern Poultry

Environmental Impact

Free Range Chickens being fed
Free Range Chickens being fed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When discussing Modern farming methods versus traditional Chicken farming one of the most glaring issues that must be considered is the impact on our environment. As has often been stated, we only have one planet, best we take care of it. The effects of mass production chicken farming have been well documented and yet are still cause for debate. As with most issues associated with this subject passions tend to run at a feverish pitch. Those for and against, modern farming methods have much at stake. In this article, I will endeavor to give you simple, documented, facts without venturing into editorial comment.

Traditional (free range) Chicken Farming

With the traditional Chicken Farming Methods, birds and their waste was spread over a wide area and was based on a natural diet. Chickens grazed consuming grasses, seeds and insects. The supplemental food they were given was also based on natural sources, cracked corn, local grown grains and waste vegetables from gardens.

The Poultry waste from these birds was actually beneficial to the environment.  They reprocessed nutrients from their food and returned them to the environment in a manner that helped enrich the soil. Thus preventing soil degradation and assuring a healthier growing environment for the food that would, eventually, feed them and their owners. A shortened food cycle but one based on the sound ecological practices of a balanced environment and conservation of resources.

Modern Poultry Facts

Annual production of fecal waste from poultry flocks was 8.8 million tons on a dry weight basis plus more than 106,000 metric tons of broiler hatchery waste. Add to this 37 million dead birds and condemnations at processing plants (figures are from USDA for 1989 based on USDA National Statistics Survey). These figures are 14 years old. Since they were released the USDA has greatly reduced its public output of such information. This leaves us having to make some conclusions by supposition.

The American poultry Industry has shown a 30 percent growth rate per decade over the last two decades. Consider 14 years as roughly 1.5 decades this means a waste output of 12.76 million tons of fecal waste and 53.65 million dead birds. These numbers are being kind to the industry.

Unfortunately for the environment this waste is no longer spread over a wide area as it once was. Modern Poultry Farms are based on maximizing production, while maintaining as small a foot print as possible. This means more waste contained in a smaller area and altering the nature of the chickens' diet to increase growth rate. Altering their diet means altering their waste.

Commercial Chicken feed is no longer the natural product of their environment. Today's high growth feeds contain hormone and steroid precursors to increase growth rate. High antibiotic content to reduce losses due to diseases in the flock and arsenic to promote growth, reduce parasites, and give the meat that nice rosy glow that consumers have come to associate with fresh chicken. Hormones and steroids will be discussed in a later article. Our primary focus will be on the arsenic and antibiotic content of poultry feed.

Antibiotics in Poultry feed

High doses of antibiotics are used to protect flocks grown in very aseptic conditions. Overcrowding and an environment high in waste products, create an environment where diseases could run rampant and cause a sever loss of income to a farmer. To combat this extremely high doses of antibiotics are administered to the chickens in their feed. The primary concern with this process from an ecological stand point is that, viruses, bacteria and other microscopic organisms are highly adaptive. You provide them with a perfect breeding ground and then attack them with antibiotics they will quickly adapt and become resistant to that antibiotic. Witness the recent outbreaks of various Avian or Bird flues and E Coli that have become increasingly difficult to combat as they have become more and more antibiotic resistant. These antibiotic resistant organisms reaching us, the people, are a direct result of the feeding methods and waste management protocols in modern poultry farming.

Arsenic in Poultry Feed

Arsenic finds its way into poultry by way of feed. Nitarsone and similar arsenic based drugs have been used in the United States since the 1930's. Since that time it has been used to control parasites, promote growth and add pigment to the meat. The arsenic used in feed is an organic type found in nature but problems arise when it passes through the digestive tract of the chickens and then is deposited in the chickens Feces. Through a process of inorganic digestion, this organic arsenic is converted to an inorganic type that not only is a known carcinogen but is also water soluble.

Environmental Impact

"Runoff from poorly managed facilities can carry pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, nutrients, and oxygen-demanding organics…"

"according to the E.P.A., An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste."

These two Quotes speak for themselves. Wastes from Modern Poultry farms find their way into our rivers and streams. Their high nutrient levels (Nitrates, phosphorus etc.) cause a negative impact on the ecological systems by causing over production of plant life in certain areas. Oxygen demanding compounds lead to fish kills and dead zones in our waters. Arsenic and Pathogens contaminate our free waters and leach into the water table jeopardizing all that use water. Secondary contamination through livestock watering and irrigation spreads these contaminants further endangering the Eco-system and our food supply. The high concentrations of, ammonia and other gases, from decaying carcasses and waste, ads to global warming and Ozone Layer depletion.

I have done my best to avoid commentary in this article. Check my sources, check my facts. All that I have done here is try to provide information. What people choose to do with that information is up to their discretion?

If you missed the first two parts of this series you can follow the links below. Part 4 will cover the health impact of these two farming methods

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  1. seems all the big companies care about is making money....they no longer care about the customer or their health, they want you to live long enough to buy their product and that's it.

  2. Poultry feeds must have good nutritional value to keep the chicken strong and healthy. There are different types of poultry feeds available as bulk or bagged feeds.


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