This week, I was fortunate enough to take part in a media tour of a chicken farm and processing facility, hosted by Australian Chicken Meat Industry and Ingham’s Enterprises. I was in two minds about going, being that it was smack in the middle of the school holidays but then thought to myself “when am I ever going to get the chance to go to a chicken farm again???” I think it’s really important for all of us to have a good grasp of where our food comes from and of the processes involved in getting it from Farm to Fork.
The day was certainly worth it! Did you know that Australians eat 45Kg (per person) per year of Chicken? And did you know that chicken consumption is overtaking red meat consumption? How long do you think it takes from when the chicken hits the processing plant to the moment your chicken breasts are packed and ready to ship to the store, to you? So many questions answered during my day out.
This is the way it panned out:
At 7.30, our small group of media, chicken officials and a sole Dietitian, eagerly boarded the bus to visit the Pumicestone Poultry Farm in Caboolture. We were met by representatives of Ingham’s and our information session began. This is what I found out:
- All the chickens are owned by Ingham’s , they are hatched in hatching facilities and brought to the “farms” as one day old chicks. Before delivery to the “raising farms”, they are vaccinated “in novo” against Marek’s disease and on hatching, have a spray vaccine against infective bronchitis.
- One breed is used – the Ross 308 breed – and both male and females are raised together.
- Chickens are not treated in any other way, the size and growing speed are down to the breed/genetics.
- Farmers provide a raising facility – barns, electricity, water and care and Ingham’s provide all the chickens, feed and guidelines. There are very strict protocols.
- Feed is carefully designed for the optimal protein levels for various chicken ages and the formulation is changed as the chickens grow. The grain is sorghum/wheat. Chickens are allowed to just eat as needed/desired. Water is available as needed.
The facility that we visited was a bit of a surprise to me. I think I was expecting a more traditional farm but it was pretty much an area with 8 extremely large barns. The chickens here were not free range, being contained in the barns. Biosecurity was extremely strict at the site. We had to cover our boots with plastic bags, gown up in space style overalls and then cover our feet again with plastic. We then used hygienic hand wash and “foot dip” before entering the barn. The barns are temperature controlled and monitored. Chickens are raised in these barns up to either 35 days or to 50 days before being taken to the Processing plant at Murrarie in Brisbane.
We boarded the bus to take the last journey those chickens would take to the processing plant.
Luckily, we went in by the guest entrance.
Hygiene practices are high on the agenda at Murrarie as well. Once again, we donned outfits including hair nets and boots before entering the plant.
The journey the chickens take goes a bit like this:
- The chickens arrive and are shackled and placed in a dark environment to calm them before the stunning, pretty much killing the chickens . Not nice but that’s the reality.
- Chickens are hung and de-feathered by an automative process. It’s hot in here as we watch the plucking machines. Then the bits we don’t eat are removed.
- The plucked and “tidied up” chicken that looks like the raw, naked chicken we see and buy is then dipped in a cold water bath which is chlorinated. The chlorine is to sanitise. The chickens are in the bath for up to 2 hours, depending on size.
- Large chickens go down one line – to be used for chicken pieces, smaller ones go down another line and are used as whole chickens.
- High pressure water jets are used to cut portion controlled pieces, such as breast. Boning is done manually. I was amazed at how much of the process was done manually and at the skill level involved handling sharp knives and scissors.
- Pieces are hand packed and wrapped by machine, off cuts go to nuggets of course!
- There is not much waste with some pieces sent for pet consumption.
- Marinades, stuffings and glazes are added at the factory on request of the food supplier.
- There is approximately three hours maximum from arrival of the chicken to when it is packaged and ready to go.
- Some looser pieces are sent to a food production plant which does meals, the other portions – whole chickens, breast, drumsticks pieces are sent straight to the supermarket.
It was really an eye opening experience. I think the two things that struck me the most were – the speed at which the chicken is ready to go out to the supermarket from when the chicken arrives at the door and the fact that the chicken is soaked in a chlorinated bath. This is something I didn’t know about but will certainly keep in mind.
And did it put me off chicken? No way. In fact the process doesn’t seem to put the staff working in the processing plant off chicken either. We passed a group lining up for a well- earned staff discount on chicken at the local outlet/staff shop as we went into the factory. Given that they work everyday with chicken, its reassuring to see the staff are still enthusiastic about it appearing on their table.
Please ask me any questions you would like about the trip. I will be blogging about chicken Nutrition next!