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Meat-chickens demystified: chicken-farming practices revealed by Ingham’s

While chicken is a popular protein – with the average Aussie eating 49 kilograms of chicken each year(Australian Chicken Meat Federation)  – myths around poultry-farming continue to circulate.

Ingham’s has set out to debunk common misconceptions and showcase the commitments to animal welfare and sustainability that drive Australia’s largest poultry producer.

What’s in your chook?

Grain-fed goodness. Broilers (meat-chickens) are nurtured with optimal nutrition from grains such as wheat and barley, and protein such as grain legumes and soybean meal.

No hormones or steroids are added to chicken feed or administered in any way – in fact, any usage of these was banned from chicken production in Australia more than 60 years ago.

A look around the poultry house

Broilers are housed in climate-controlled poultry sheds to protect them against hot summers, cold winters, predators and disease. In these sheds they can move around and have free access to food and water through automatic feed systems and water lines.

Looking around an Ingham’s poultry shed you see more space per bird for roving and flapping wings; perches and dry, friable litter – such as wood shavings – so birds can perform natural behaviours perching, foraging and dust bathing; enrichment objects for pecking and exploration; good lighting periods to encourage activity and then proper darkness to allow rest.

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry specifies the legal maximum number of meat-chickens per square metre of shed floor.

At Ingham’s, 100 per cent of the company’s sheds have RSPCA Approved certification, which means less chickens per square metre than the law requires, as well as many other animal welfare requirements in place which are regularly assessed.

The RSPCA’s standard for meat-chickens has over 300 requirements for the inside of a poultry shed, and in 2021 alone, more than 340 assessments were conducted at Ingham’s farms and abattoirs by RSPCA Assessors to make sure standards are being met.

Breeding broilers

Selective breeding, optimal nutrition, husbandry, and initiatives working towards the five freedoms – freedom from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express normal behaviour – are central to poultry production at Ingham’s.

For the past 60 years, Ingham’s genetic stock supplier has been selecting the fittest, strongest birds to produce the next generation – chosen for growth rate, health, disease resistance, and efficiency at transforming feed into meat. Over time this has seen the growth rate of broiler chickens increase.

Environmental impact of poultry-farming

Emissions from livestock production come from sources such as feed production and transport. Poultry are highly efficient in converting feed, and numerous studies have shown that chicken has the lowest carbon footprint of any land-based meat.

Into the future…

The Australian Chicken Meat Federation and industry players such as Ingham’s are committed to Australia’s Long Term Emissions Reduction Plan to deliver net zero emissions by 2050. Ingham’s has set its 2030 targets to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent (compared with a 2019 baseline), and 20 per cent reductions in water intensity and waste to landfill. Ingham’s is also exploring options such as using AI to improve animal welfare, turning sites into carbon sinks, and finding alternative more sustainable feeds.

Ingham’s said: “Animal welfare and sustainability are central to our strategy. We are proud to participate in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme as a Producer with 100 per cent of our sheds having RSPCA Approved Certification. We are also working to embed sustainable decision makers across our business to work to achieve – and exceed – our carbon reduction commitments.”

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