Why meat chickens are ready to eat in just 6 weeks
This melting plump roast grew to that size from a chick in just six weeks, but it’s nothing to do with hormones.
It’s nothing to do with hormones, and never has been.
For many years, many people believed one thing about the poultry industry: that they use hormones and other daily medications to make the birds grow fast and lay more eggs.
But this isn’t true. In the early 1900s, the only poultry meat available to the urban population were end-of-lay hens and roosters that had been fattened, a process which took several months. As a result, chicken meat was a special treat, only usually available at festive times like Christmas.
Some breeds were being developed for either meat or egg production, but the majority available at the time from the local butcher were dual-purpose birds where the hens were kept for egg laying and their brothers were fattened for the table. The Rhode Island Red crossed with the Light Sussex was a very popular choice as their chicks could be sexed (by feather colour) as soon as they hatched, then segregated and reared according to their future.
The birds were not considered big enough for the table until they were fully mature, a process that took a minimum of six months or more. This created a practical problem; once roosters become sexually mature there are issues with fighting and bullying between them, especially when they are kept confined in a male-only flock. To overcome this situation the roosters were often ‘caponised’ at an early age, a process where the testes are removed. The loss of testosterone prevented fighting and meant the birds put on more weight, both muscle and fat, because they ate more and used far less energy.
Surgical castration of roosters can be traced back as far as Roman times and Shakespeare mentions capons in As You Like It (written in 1600). Removal of the testes is a proven method of controlling the sexual activity of sheep, cattle and pigs and is carried on to this day because the testes are external on mammals, making the operation much easier to perform. Surgical castration in cockerels involves an incision between the ribs of the bird to hook out the testes which lie close to the spine in the middle of the body. It is a practice which is outlawed these days due to it being barbarically performed without pain relief, follow-up medication or stitches to the incision.
When caponisation was outlawed, overseas poultry producers looked for another process. They were rearing heavy breeds of poultry like the Plymouth Rock, the Orpington, the Rhode Island Red, the Light Sussex and the Cornish Game but these are all slow-growing, late maturing breeds. To speed up the fattening process – to save feed, and losses and skin damage from fighting – they injected a hormone pellet into the neck of the young males. NOTE: as referenced on page 57, as far as existing records go, hormones have NEVER been used in NZ.
Ahormone is a substance made up of proteins and produced by the body in various glands, to regulate the body processes like sexual maturity and reproduction, and metabolic processes.
There are many different hormones. For example, insulin is a hormone which controls carbohydrate digestion, adrenalin stimulates a flight or fight response, thyroxine stimulates oxygen consumption, metabolising cells and tissue, and oxytocin is the ‘milk let-down’ hormone.
So why have hormones and the myths surrounding them become such an issue with poultry when they have not been used in NZ at all, for half a century worldwide, and have been banned in most parts of the world?
Research shows packaging confuses people in some countries. It may also come down to a TV programme made many years ago which purportedly showed South American poultry workers exposed to the offal of birds which had been chemically caponised who had developed breasts. It’s not known if this story was true or not. If it was, it’s also not known whether it was an isolated situation in an unregulated poultry
| industry where hormones were still being used. These are often mixed up and substituted for each other by people who don’t understand the differences between them.
Hormones are protein-based substances, naturally produced by the body to control the various processes of growth, sexuality, digestion and metabolic balance of normal healthy development.
Growth promotants are substances, both chemical and biological, that can be used to improve growth by supressing bad bacteria (reducing disease) and aiding digestion (increasing feed efficiency). Probiotics could be classed in this area, as could apple cider vinegar.
Antibiotics are substances produced by other organisms – and can be synthetically produced – which can supress or kill other bacteria, eg penicillin, tetracycline. They were used in the past as a prophylactic, added to feed all the time in case a disease organism caused trouble. But this meant they acted as growth promotants by eliminating the diseases that could plague large, intensivelyhoused flocks, especially gut bugs like salmonella, campylobacter, necrotic enteritis and E. coli which can severely affect digestion and cause death.
But for the past 40 years, there have been strict controls on the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. Antibiotics commonly used in human medicine are different to the classes of antibiotics used in livestock, to prevent resistance building up in the human population by the indiscriminate misuse of antibiotics to treat animal diseases.
All antibiotics must be prescribed by a vet, after examining and diagnosing a particular disease condition requiring treatment. This applies as much to the small flock owner who has a single chicken with a health problem as it does for a large commercial flock with a health problem. On a commercial poultry farm where the owner suspects there is a problem of some sort, which could vary from a drop in egg