Most of the chicken meat you see on the supermarket shelves comes from what are known as Broiler chickens.
Broiler chickens are any chickens that have been raised specifically for the purpose of meat production.
They’re fed a special diet and kept in conditions that are (hopefully) conducive to growing up healthy, plump, and with the goal of ending up on the dinner table.
There have always been some welfare concerns around large-scale broiler operations that operate with a profit-first mentality.
I’m not going to discuss that side of the business in this article.
But I will add that I think we should all try and buy chicken from ethical poultry producers. It’s a win-win, too, as free-range, organic, and cruelty-free chicken tastes a lot better!
If you’re interested in the poultry industry, and broiler chickens, in particular, here’s everything you need to know:
What Are Broiler Chickens?
If you look up the word ‘broiler’ in the dictionary, you’ll see the definition:
a young chicken suitable for roasting, grilling, or barbecuing.
Broilers are not a specific breed of chicken, which often comes as a surprise. So, it’s not as if you can buy broilers by searching for the term specifically.
Or, if you do, you’re not always going to see the same breeds of chickens being sold as broilers.
Researching this topic, it looks like the most common chicken used as a broiler is a cross between a White Rock and a Cornish.
These two breeds are used as they’re great meat birds. They grow quickly and fatten up nicely which is obviously the primary objective when producing chickens for meat.
Related - Do we also eat male chickens? Nope, here’s why.
How Many Days Does a Broiler Chicken Take to Grow?
This comes as a surprise to most people, but broiler chickens do not take long to grow from hatching to a consumable size.
It takes just 48 days on average for a broiler to be big enough for consumption.
This has become a lot quicker over the years due to advances in modern poultry farming techniques, as well as becoming cheaper and requiring less food.
How Many Weeks Does It Take to Grow a Broiler Chicken?
If you prefer to work in weeks rather than days, broiler chickens take 6-8 weeks to reach their full consumable size.
I will say, this refers to broilers being grown in a poultry farm. If you buy chicken from a smaller, family-run farm, it’s going to take a lot longer - and the chicken will taste different.
As with all large-scale operations, it’s staggering how quickly and the sheer scale of some poultry operations.
It’s estimated that more than 8 billion chickens are consumed every year in the US alone. Those are mind-blowing numbers to think about!
At What Age Are Broiler Chickens Slaughtered?
Broiler chickens are slaughtered as soon as they reach a consumable size in the poultry industry.
That’s when they reach around 48 days or 7 weeks of age.
This is obviously a young age, and it comes as a surprise to most people that they’re eating chicken from such young birds.
There are three main reasons why broilers are processed at such a young age:
- They’ve reached their full size, so there isn’t much point in continuing to care for the chickens
- The meat from younger chickens is more tender, and most say enjoyable than older chickens
- The earlier the chickens are processed, the more profit a poultry farm makes
Can Broiler Chicken Lay Eggs?
Broiler chickens on poultry farms are processed and end up on supermarket shelves before they reach maturity and are able to lay any eggs.
If they were kept longer, however, they would be able to lay eggs, yes.
The parents of broilers laid eggs, which is where broilers come from. These are called broiler breeders, and there are breeding operations that supply broilers to poultry farms.
Broilers aren’t that different from ‘regular’ chickens. The only real difference is that they’ve been selectively bred to yield as much meat as possible in the shortest time frame.
Can Broiler Chickens Be Kept as Backyard Pets?
Broilers can be kept as backyard chickens and come with most of the same pros and cons as adding any chickens to your flock.
Generally speaking, they can live as long as other backyard breeds, and they will also lay delicious eggs.
Keep in mind that broilers are selectively bred in order to be meat birds though. They typically have larger breast muscles and are plump birds.
They’re not bred to live long lives, so depending on the line of broilers that your chicken comes from, it’s very possible it might not live a long, healthy life.
One thing I do know is that you’ll be able to give a broiler a better life in a backyard or homestead setting.
You should now have a better understanding of how the poultry industry works, what broilers are, and how they’re used in poultry farms.
The term ‘broiler’ is often thrown around as a breed of chicken. This isn’t the case, it’s simply a word for a chicken that is being bred for meat production.
Broilers can be just about any breed of chicken, but obviously, they’re usually breeds that fatten up quickly and can be turned around for profit.