This is How We Grow our Chickens
Over the last 20 years, the United States population alone has increased by nearly 30 percent. Considering that the average American consumes approximately 90 pounds of chicken annually according to the National Chicken Council, it is evident that the demand for poultry products in the United States and around the world is steadily growing.
Each week, Sanderson Farms processes more than 10.625 million chickens per week, which equates to more than 3.7 billion pounds of dressed poultry produced by the company on an annual basis. In order to produce enough 100% Natural Chicken to feed a growing world, Sanderson Farms works with more than 900 independent family farmers who help support our network of poultry complexes spread across five states and 16 different communities. Each poultry complex consists of a feed mill, hatchery and processing plant. By owning and operating our own feed mills and hatcheries, Sanderson Farms ensures that everything that goes into our chicken is approved by specially trained nutritionists and veterinarians.
At Sanderson Farms, we firmly stand behind our commitment to keeping things the way nature intended them, meaning we don’t add anything to our fresh chicken products. There are no additives, artificial ingredients or preservatives. Our chicken always consists of a single ingredient product: 100% Natural Chicken.
Ever wonder where your chicken really comes from? It all begins with young chickens called pullets, which are purchased by Sanderson Farms from a professional breeder for their unique genetic makeup. These young birds were selectively bred to maintain the most robust bloodlines in our flocks.
As a company, Sanderson Farms is absolutely committed to the health and safety of our chickens. Throughout their lifespan, our birds receive intense animal husbandry care that includes proper nutrition, vaccinations and biosecurity measures to ensure our birds are protected from the threat of external disease. By design, biosecurity procedures are focused on the safety of our chickens by limiting exposure to disease threats as much as possible. Sanderson Farms protects our flocks from outside predators and inclement weather by housing them in specially-equipped poultry houses where they are free to roam as they please.
Family farmers take care of our flocks each day, making sure all the birds’ needs are met. To ensure bird health, trained flock supervisors from Sanderson Farms make regular farm visits to check the flock history recorded daily by the farmers. This history includes water and feed consumption, mortality, any abnormalities, as well as the temperature and brightness of the lighting in each house. Flock supervisors check to ensure that feed and water lines are in good repair so that they can provide the hydration and nutrients necessary to grow healthy chickens.
During farm visits, flock supervisors also assess bird health, ensuring that any ill or injured birds have been treated as necessary to maintain flock health. Chickens with an illness or ailment, such as a broken leg, that cannot access feed or water on their own are humanely euthanized by trained farmers or flock supervisors to prevent suffering. Alleviating suffering by euthanasia is called culling, which must be done by a method approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Once those selectively bred, young birds reach maturity on the pullet farm within 22 weeks, they are transported to breeder farms where they are bred to produce fertile eggs. In breeder farms, birds live in spacious houses designed with reproduction in mind. Translucent curtains with special interior lights enhance sunlight, creating an eternal spring for chickens and lengthening their reproductive life. Elevated surfaces provide a clean, uncrowded feeding area while slatted flooring keeps feces and other debris away from hens.
Breeder flock farmers work with their flocks each day, weekends and holidays as well, to make sure their flocks are fed properly, the birds are in good health and comfort, and eggs are picked up on a timely basis. Flock supervisors routinely visit breeder farms to ensure good distribution of male and female birds, monitor bird behavior and evaluate bird health. Hens prefer to lay eggs in quiet, dark and covered areas, therefore nests are provided for their comfort. In an effort to not disturb the egg-laying process and make egg gathering efficient, a conveyor belt out of the hen’s sight moves the eggs from the nesting box to an egg gathering area several times per day.
Once the eggs have been collected from the hen house, they are packed in flats and placed into farm racks for cooling. By cooling the eggs, the embryo is placed into true suspended animation. When the eggs are later warmed to incubation temperatures in the hatchery, they will develop into chicks precisely 21 days later. The commercial incubation process mimics a hen’s natural incubation process by maintaining a warm and humid environment, and just as naturally, all chicks hatch within hours of each other, even if the eggs were laid up to a week apart.
Just like any other animal, chickens are subject to sickness and disease if not properly vaccinated. At Sanderson Farms, we vaccinate our future chicks while still inside their shells against Marek’s disease, a highly contagious viral disease commonly found in chicken environments, and treat any bacterial contamination from the natural egg-laying process. This single combined injection of vaccine and antibiotic under the shell is the only time Sanderson Farms ever injects anything near our birds, leaving little opportunity for antibiotic resistance to develop and no residues in mature broilers weeks later when they go to market.
Once an egg hatches into a chick, it is removed from the hatch basket, selected for viability and placed into a farm transport basket with its hatch mates. Any nonviable chicks or embryos are humanely euthanized by methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Through our animal welfare program, hatcheries are audited at least twice per year by both internal and third party auditors, assuring that chicks are handled in a safe and humane manner.
While chicks are confined to transport baskets, they are sprayed with additional aerosolized vaccines to prevent other common diseases. Following vaccination, stacked boxes of chicks are placed on special transport trucks for safe delivery to their new home, the broiler farm.
Broiler houses are specifically designed for the growth stage of a bird’s life with wide, open spaces to ensure that birds are comfortable and safe, while being provided unlimited access to a plentiful supply of food and water. These farms are called broiler farms because chickens that are raised for meat are known as broilers within the poultry industry.
At the broiler farm, farmers provide litter, fresh water and feed that is specially formulated for the chick’s nutritional needs at that age. Floor temperatures are closely monitored for chick comfort and fresh air is maintained regardless of temperatures outside the house.
When the chicks arrive at the broiler farm, they are placed in a designated area of the house that is sectioned off to keep the chicks warm and comfortable until they shed their downy fuzz and begin to mature. Near the second week of their life, chickens begin to molt or shed their downy fuzz, which is replaced by feathers. At this time, chickens are able to better regulate their own body temperature and are allowed to roam throughout the house as they please.
Family farmers care for and raise broiler chickens for approximately 49 to 63 days, depending on desired market weight. Throughout their lifespan, Sanderson Farms chickens are fed a balanced diet that provides them with the proper nutrition necessary to grow to their maximum potential.
In the broiler house, bird population encourages maximal growth for the birds and optimal use of space for the farmer. State-of-the-art ventilation systems and climate control systems help to keep the birds comfortable during chilly winters and hot summers. Unlike some poultry producers, Sanderson Farms’ family farmers enjoy long-term, 15-year contracts, ensuring the company and farmer’s long-term commitment to the success of their growing operation.
In addition to the daily supervision provided by each farmer, flock supervisors help monitor the well-being and distribution of birds, as well as their overall behavior. Like youngsters of many other species, chickens can be playful and sometimes aggressive towards one another, especially in bright light. To reduce aggressive behavior and potential injury, lights are controllably dimmed in broiler houses to create a more subdued environment and encourage relaxed interactions between birds.
After approximately seven to nine weeks on the broiler farm, broiler chickens reach their desired market size and are ready for transport to the processing facility. At this time, the birds are hand caught and placed into wire-sided pens that are loaded onto tractor-trailers for quick transport to the processing facility. This is the only time Sanderson Farms chickens are ever caged, and they are only caged at this time for their own protection during transport.
By federal law, all chickens must be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm. As a result, there are never any antibiotic residues in Sanderson Farms’ broilers chickens when they go to market.
At the processing facility, chickens are processed humanely, thoroughly cleaned, chilled, packaged and inspected by USDA personnel before being shipped. This process occurs as rapidly as possible to minimize bird discomfort and maximize meat quality and safety. Sanderson Farms’ chicken products are then distributed within the United States to retail and foodservice customers or exported for sale in other countries.
From farm to fork, a lot of hard work and preparation goes into making sure Sanderson Farms produces safe and quality products that help to feed families all around the globe. Within the poultry industry, Sanderson Farms is proud to have one of the highest livability rates in live production. Healthy birds are the first step towards achieving a safe and quality food source for our customers. This is how we grow healthy chickens at Sanderson Farms.