Temple Grandin: Some slow growth may help broiler industry

Slowing down broiler growth rates somewhat may appropriate, according to one of the country’s foremost welfare experts.

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Dr. Temple Grandin, left, shared the most memorable experiences in her decades working with livestock during a North American Meat Institute event in Kansas City, Missouri. Austin Alonzo
Dr. Temple Grandin, left, shared the most memorable experiences in her decades working with livestock during a North American Meat Institute event in Kansas City, Missouri. Austin Alonzo

Slowing down broiler growth rates somewhat may be appropriate, according to one of the country’s foremost welfare experts.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, ‘We’re going to go back to 1950s style chicken.’ I think that’s just stupid,” Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Science, said.

Grandin, an esteemed pioneer in animal welfare and livestock equipment design, spoke about the topic after an interview reflecting on her life and work during the North American Meat Institute’s Animal Care and Handling Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, held on October 19, 2017.

Slower growing broiler genetics is an emerging issue in the U.S. broiler industry. Pushed by activists, some in the food industry are committing to standards calling for supplying only chickens that gain weight at a slower rate than conventional broilers.

Grandin said slowing down growth to 1950s levels is impractical and will harm the sustainability of chicken meat. If 20 percent more grain were needed to feed the same flock, the consequences would be severe. However, reducing growth rates slightly may help control woody breast syndrome – the phenomenon is associated with faster growing birds – and solve other health issues like congenital heart failure.  

In her opinion, animal welfare outcomes are more important than growth rates from a welfare standpoint. Grandin said she cares about measurable outcomes. For the chicken industry, those would be ammonia levels in the chicken houses, leg health – the bird’s ability to stand and walk – and circulatory system health. Those are factors that can be measured and improved over time.

In the 20 years she’s spent working with the broiler industry, Grandin said she’s already seen great genetic improvement that’s led to better welfare for animals. She cited how roosters are now bred to be less aggressive and do less harm to breeder hens. Its possible that genetic improvement will be the path to improved welfare outcomes for all broiler chickens, too.

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