How The Average Size Of Chickens Grew Over The Years

This post was written by The Meat Mafia (@CarniClemenza & @MrSollozzo)

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The chicken you are eating increased 364% in size over the last 50 years and this post explains what this mean for your health.

Meat Consumption Numbers

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  • We eat 26 billion pounds of chicken
  • We spend almost $30B on broiler chickens to eat
  • We have an inventory of 518 Million chickens
  • The average American eats 65 pounds of chicken alone

It’s no exaggeration to state that the US is obsessed with chicken however the chicken we eat today is very different than what our grandparents grew up eating. Modern chicken is notorious for being dry, bland, and flavorless. You typically need to fry it, overly season it, or marinate it in sauces and dressings to increase the flavor. Compare this to the 1960s where chicken was considered a delicacy. Famed Chef Julia Child had this to say about chicken: “Chicken should be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, butter roast, sauté or grill.”.

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Julia Child

The Chicken Of Tomorrow Contest

How did we end up with these fattened flavorless birds that are dirty and pumped with hormones? Read more and find out. In the 1940’s chicken was expensive and reserved for very special occasions. In 1948 the average chicken cost $3 ($30 per bird today considering inflation). During WWII red meat was rationed and Americans doubled the amount of chicken they ate as a result. Howard Pierce (National Poultry Director at A&P) ingeniously discovered a solution to this chicken issue. He then decided to have A&P sponsor “The Chicken of Tomorrow” contest. This contest challenged competitors nationally to grow the fattest chickens in the shortest amount of time. Pierce was worried that the increased demand for chicken would decrease and A&P’s poultry sales would come crashing down. A&P was the country’s largest Supermarket at the time and saw that this contest could do a few things for them like create a cost-efficient bird for future production, be a genius PR stunt, and increase the marketing of their brand. The Chickens of the early 1900’s were vastly different birds that the chickens of today. The average broiler chicken in the 1940s was around 3 pounds and it took a few months to get to that size. To learn more about The Chicken Of Tomorrow contest check out the documentary below.

The Chicken Of Tomorrow Contest Rules

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The rules of the contest were pretty simple. Each contestant had to raise their special breed of chicken for 12 weeks. The birds would then be slaughtered and judged. The judges key metrics were size, skin, width of the breast, and average weight. NOT TASTE. There were 2 breeds that dominated the competition. Arbor Acres White Rocks’ white feathered birds flourished in the “purebred” category and the Red Cornish Crosses from the Vantress Hatchery outperformed all in size, width, and weight. These two birds would cross-breed to create the Arbor Acre Breed whose Franken-genetics still dominate the chicken we eat today.

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Today

We are still eating the Chicken of Tomorrow and have continued to get even more “efficient” at creating our chicken product. The average chicken broiler grows in 35 days which is half the time of the fastest chicken in 1948. Our birds are also much fatter averaging 6.5 pounds. Our chickens are now so fat that they waddle when they walk. They have short legs and massive breasts that impair the mobility of the bird. We have created genetically modified Frankenbirds that are created to get as fat as possible. In addition to this we are basically eating gigantic baby birds. For centuries it has been known that a mature adult bird is what creates the best flavor. In the early 1900s chickens would be slaughtered around 4+ months. Today’s broiler is getting slaughtered at 47 days. This is literally a 4X reduction in the age of the bird we are eating which is responsible for the bland flavoring of today’s bird. Remember we are talking about efficiency to create the most profit here. The quicker you can slaughter the bird the more $ you can make.

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It is also important to note that what chickens are now fed is drastically different from what they have been eating evolutionarily. Chickens are meant to eat a wide range of items such as grass, bugs, scraps, mice, frogs, etc. They are kept around farms to clean up scraps! Compare this to today where chickens now are primarily fed corn & soy with the sole intention to get them fat as quickly as possible. These poor nutritional inputs are evolutionarily inconsistent from what chickens are meant to eat and also have created a weak-tasting bird. Carbs are now the sole focus of the Chicken’s diet which we refer to as the “High-Energy Diet”. Sidenote: This diet also work with humans.

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How Consumers Suffer

Conventional Grain-Fed birds have an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio that can be as high as 17:1. Compare this to a pasture-raised chicken which has an Omega 6 to Omega-3 ratio of 6:1. The good news is that there are still a number of great farms that breed & sell chickens the way they were supposed to be prior to 1948. I recommend exclusively sourcing your chicken from a farm where you can ensure the utmost quality of the bird. A good farm will have the chickens moving out in the pasture and consuming a wide ranges of items. Buying from a farm will allow you to directly ask the farmer questions about how the bird was raised. You will be paying a bit more but the taste and nutritional density of the chicken will be worth it. As you can see our Chicken has been industrialized just like the rest of our food system. I firmly believe that you and your family have a God-given right to the best quality animal protein possible. Prioritize sourcing it from the right sources and let your health flourish.

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Correct way to farm chicken

If you interested in exploring these themes further I highly recommend reading The Dorito Effect by @MarkSchatzker. This book does an amazing job detailing how the food industry use flavor & dilution strategies to alter the food we are eating.

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