How the Broiler Chicken Industry Works

Broiler chickens are young chickens raised for meat. The broiler chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula is made up of approximately 1,700 farm families who grow nearly 11 million chickens per week for four chicken companies.. These family farms own the chicken houses and equipment and provide the day-to-day care and management needed for optimal growth, welfare, and productivity of their flocks. The poultry companies supply growers with chicks, feed, bedding materials, propane gas to heat the houses, health care for the chickens, and technical assistance with raising the birds. Delmarva's poultry companies operate 10 feed mills, 13 hatcheries, 10 processing plants, and provide direct employment for more than 14,000 local residents.

Here is a brief look at how the broiler chicken industry works.

Breeder Farm

The production process begins on a breeder farm where breeder hens lay eggs. These eggs are collected, selected for quality, and taken to a hatchery. Only a few breeder farms operate on the Delmarva Peninsula. Most of the eggs that are hatched on Delmarva are produced in North Carolina and transported to Delmarva.


At the hatchery, eggs again are monitored for quality, placed in incubators, and held at ideal temperatures and humidity. While still in the shell, most chicks are vaccinated to provide immunity against certain poultry diseases. Twenty-one days after they are placed in the incubator, the eggs hatch. The newly hatched chicks are checked for good health before they are carried by bus to the farm.

On the Farm

On the farm, chicks live in spacious poultry houses where heat and ventilation are carefully controlled. Most producers have advanced computer systems that allow them to maintain and monitor optimum poultry house conditions. The house protects the chickens from disease, predators, and bad weather. Broiler chickens are not raised in cages. They roam freely about the poultry house. Chickens are fed a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with vitamin and mineral supplements. No hormones are used in feed for chickens. Feed and fresh water are dispensed automatically. The poultry grower and a flock supervisor from the poultry company monitor the birds throughout the approximately seven-week growth cycle. If health care is needed, company veterinarians are readily available.

Poultry producers take good care of their birds. By adhering to animal welfare guidelines they not only ensure the well being of the birds but increase the productivity of their flocks, too. Producers also are dedicated to caring for the environment. Through nutrient management plans, manure storage facilities, and on-farm composters, growers conscientiously do their part to protect the water, the land, and the air.


When broiler chickens grow to a marketable weight, they are ready for processing. Depending upon the type of chicken produced, birds can weigh from 2 pounds to 8 1/2 pounds live weight. (Cornish hens average about 2 pounds while broiler chickens weigh about 5-6 pounds. Roasters average about 8-8 1/2 pounds.)

Catching crews come to the farm, and following animal welfare guidelines, catch the birds by hand, and place them in crates designed to protect the chickens from injury. The crates are transported by truck to a processing plant.

At the plant, chickens are processed, inspected for wholesomeness by trained U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, subjected to stringent company quality control systems, and packaged in a variety of convenient, nutritious choices that are marketed…….
… To You!

Each week about 1,000 refrigerated truckloads of chicken are shipped from the Delmarva Peninsula to wholesale, retail, and food service outlets throughout the eastern part of the United States and around the world. Daily, millions of consumers enjoy wholesome, delicious chicken products produced by Delmarva's chicken industry.

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