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The Truth About Humanely Raised, Cage-Free Chicken Farms (Perdue and Contractors for Perdue)

If you were a chicken, how would you like to spend your day?

Although chickens are also raised for their eggs, this article will discuss only those chickens that are raised for their meat on industrialized factory farms. These farms are usually under contract to large poultry companies.

Thinking About Farm-Raised Chickens Conjures Up A Serene Picture

When you think of chickens being raised on farms, you might think of dozens of plump chickens grazing in open grassy land, clucking around excitedly, and scampering toward the farmer as he sprinkles their feed.

It's a nice thought, but it's not even close to today's reality if you are in business with the big poultry companies.

The average life span of a chicken being raised for its meat is between six and eight weeks. In the old days, it would take up to 120 days (17 weeks) for a chicken to mature and fatten up enough to be ready for market.

Today, that timetable is cut down to less than 45 days because the chickens are "bred" to grow big and to grow fast. One has to wonder what substances are being used to accomplish this feat while still being able to call the process "all natural" and "antibiotic free."

According to an investigation and subsequent report by Donald Kennedy, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, it shows that the top five poultry producers - Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods - routinely medicate their chickens with antibiotics even when they weren't sick.

Kennedy said "this creates a systematic source of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, the risks of which are not fully understood. This could be an even larger piece of the antibiotic-resistance problem than I had thought."

Perdue's Campaign "USDA Processed Verified"

Vaguely worded, it left a lot to the imagination.

Vaguely worded, it left a lot to the imagination.

Perdue's Claims Made Them A Target

Although other companies are also being cited for inhumane conditions, Perdue, the third largest chicken producing company in the United States, is targeted because of their long-standing label claims that their chickens are raised in humane conditions, antibiotic-free and are all-natural.

It's interesting to note that in 2010, celebrating 90 years in business, Perdue announced the first USDA "Processed Verified Program" while still professing "cage-free," "all veggie feed" and "humanely raised" chickens. To my recollection, for more than 10 years Perdue has claimed antibiotic free chickens and not just since 2010.

In September 2014, Perdue Farms announced that it had stopped its practice of injecting an antibiotic called Gentamicin into ready-to-hatch eggs in their chicken hatcheries.

The company said it wants “to move away from conventional antibiotic use” because of “growing consumer concern and our own questions about the practice.”

So why have we been hearing Perdue use the buzz words "antibiotic-free" since 2002 or so?

Perdue's Labels

The patriarch of the family, Arthur Perdue, started the company in 1920.

In the 1950's, his son Frank Perdue took over running the business. His slogans in the 1970s commercials were wholesome and believable, and added to the family empire's wealth.

In 1991, Jim Perdue, Frank's son, took over as Chairman of Perdue Farms. He replaced his father in the company's commercials in 1994 and, although his commercials sort of lean toward corny, they still put across the same type of message:

"We raise the best chickens."

But do they actually raise all of the chickens?

They couldn't possibly, given the demand for chicken in the consumer market.

No, they subcontract out the baby chicks to farmers who own large factory farms to raise them for Perdue. In many cases, because Perdue pays well and the work is steady, these farmers went into debt in order to set themselves up as industrial chicken farmers.

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After the contracts are signed, all the farmer has to do is raise the chickens the "Perdue way," using Perdue's chicken feed and allow access for the company veterinarians to do medical checkups and give medications.

  • How often the vets visit the farms has not been disclosed. But after viewing the following video, it is obvious they had not visited Craig Watts' farm in at least one life cycle of the average chicken.

Each of the following videos agree that the chicken's over-sized breasts made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to walk. The over-crowded, confined living conditions are very hard to look at without cringing.

The Whistleblower

All the claims by Perdue rubbed Craig Watts the wrong way. Although his farm has been in his family since the 1700's, Craig Watts didn't take out large loans to industrialize his farm until 1992 when he signed on as a subcontractor for Perdue Farms. Bound by a contract to raise the chickens the Perdue way, Watts evidently followed the company guidelines to the letter, with full disregard to using a little bit of common sense in giving the chickens a few basic necessities.

Since 2012, Watts says he has been raising mostly antibiotic-free flocks for Perdue and a few other flocks that received low doses of the antibiotic narasin.

However, for 22 years, he made his living raising over 700,000 chickens per year for Perdue, daily watching many of them suffer and die.

Never once did he publicly complain to any humane society, or make a tell-all video, or give an interview decrying the conditions of the chickens, the Perdue methods, or the mortality rate on farms like his.

Then one day, after seeing a Perdue promotion that touted that they were "the only chicken producer sporting the USDA stamp of approval, raising chickens cage-free and in humane conditions," Watts says he decided to let people know the truth.

For over four months, Watts invited an animal activist group called "Compassion in World Farming" to document their findings of his four chicken houses, each crowded with over 80,000 chickens.

The following video has been viewed by over one million YouTube viewers, and within hours of uploading on December 4, 2014, Perdue reacted swiftly and, evidently, royally pissed. also

Perdue management descended on Craig Watts's farm, informing him they were conducting an "animal welfare audit."

Should he fail the audit, which to this writer's thinking is pretty much inevitable given he allowed this video and interview, he will lose his long-standing 22 year contract with Perdue and most likely be put out of the industrialized farm business. I don't think that news came as such a big surprise to him.

Warning

Video Alert: Graphic Content

I can tell you that this video made a tremendous impression on me so that I will never look at any kind of chicken the same way again - dead, alive, store bought, farm raised, free range or caged.

The Conditions at Craig Watts's Chicken Factory Farm in North Carolina

Update 2022

Craig Watts had his YouTube account suspended, so other people have helped out by uploaded his videos to keep the word circulating.. The links in this article have been updated for that reason.