The Grow

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2002-07-10 Print this article Print

Tyson has cut 17 days from the lifespans of its chickens in the past 40 years. The modern chicken farm has come a long way from its humble, low-tech roots.

-Out Farm">

The Grow-Out Farm

In the first half of the 20th century, most chickens were kept in small numbers, ranging from a few dozen to a couple of hundred, on the family farm. Farmers would feed the birds by hand, essentially throwing grain on the ground and letting the chickens fight it out among themselves.

As many as 15% to 20% of the flock would die from either exposure to inclement weather, lack of nutrition or diseases from intermingling with other farm animals.

Building houses exclusively for chickens was a good first step but one fraught with a new set of problems. Ventilation was poor, leaving the birds vulnerable to extreme weather. Feeding was still done by hand or by utilizing a crude trough system that didn't evenly disperse food and water. Further, having the water served in a trough resulted in condensation issues that brought on unwanted diseases and other health issues.

Most of these first chicken houses didn't have electricity and were significantly smaller than the modern chicken house. Stuffing a few hundred birds into a 20-foot-by-20-foot box increased the mortality rate because chicks had a tendency to trample each other, peck each other and occasionally eat each other. The modern chicken house is at least 40-feet-by-400-feet and can accommodate up to 100,000 chicks at once.

Every conceivable aspect of the modern chicken house is measured, monitored and regulated by software and hardware from companies such as Chore-Time Systems and Eldar Shany Technologies. These systems run on Windows-based systems giving farmers up-to-the-second reports on the temperature, feed and water consumption and weight of the birds.

Windows, heaters, coolers and humidifiers are all automated based on information the software retrieves from the various sensors and thermometers. If the humidity in the chicken house gets too high or too low, the computerized system will adjust the lighting and ventilation in the room to provide the optimum growing environment.

Food and water consumption are monitored closely to ensure the birds are getting the appropriate amount of both. If the birds are eating too much food or drinking too much water, the farmer is alerted and he or she can then inspect individual birds to assess whether or not disease or other environmental issues are creating a problem.

Medicine to prevent or treat various diseases are delivered through the automated feeding machines, cutting down on mortality rates. Consider the average mortality rate of a flock before this technology was installed was 10% compared to less than 5% today.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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