I recently had the chance to visit a chicken processing plant. It was fascinating, really. We’re in the beef business – used to seeing carcasses that hang weighing 750 hundreds of pounds – and now I’m looking at chickens rolling in with all their feathers topping the scales at 7 pounds. That’s not a lot of meat, but it’s still part of the meat industry, and I have wanted to understand the chicken business a little better – so, I visited a plant.
For starters, the biggest difference on the surface is the age of the birds. In less than 60 days, these chickens go from birth to the processing plant. This is quicker than beef by a long shot. Full harvest weight is often achieved in less than 50 days, and there is no way the beef industry is going to keep up with this.
Secondly, I was very impressed with the utilization of the bird. Every part of the chicken is maximized for consumption, whether it is consumed here in the United States or exported for consumption in another country. Even the feathers and feet are utilized- that is efficient and resourceful.
Another aspect of the plant that I really appreciated was the cleanliness of the facility. It was immaculate. The cleanliness of the facility was of utmost importance to the supervisors, and the USDA folks on hand. The system that was in place from receiving the chickens to the shipping dock was very smooth, and it was spotless throughout.
The final point that I’d like to discuss is job creation. There are over 1,000 employees at the plant I visited – that’s a lot of jobs and families impacted by one company! There are also a number of other folks impacted by the plant that are not accounted for in that number, such as the food vendors stocking the break room and the fuel companies filling the diesel tanks where the trucks are serviced.
Ultimately, I drove out of the plant and was very thankful… thankful to live in a country where we have such great food choices with solid standards. We can count of our food production, something that is not to be taken for granted. Thousands and thousands of pounds of chicken will be exported around the globe, and we are raising those chickens, raising their feed, and processing the birds. That means that other folks are counting on us, as we raise their food as well.
It was a great feeling pulling out. The sun was still shining, and I had thoughts racing through my mind, along with a much deeper understanding of another part of our food chain. As I sat down for dinner, I still ordered my steak, medium rare, but my kids enjoyed their chicken tenders, and I was thankful to live in a land where we have multiple proteins that we can count on and be thankful for.
Until next time…