Farming FAQ

You’ve got Q’s, we’ve got A’s.

Are antibiotics given to chickens raised for meat?
- Heather P, ON
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Why do chicken farmers continue the use of steroids in chickens when it is harmful and completely unnecessary?
- David L, ON
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Do farmers use steroids or other hormones to grow huge chickens?
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I heard you keep chickens in tiny cages where they can barely move.
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I’ve read that “broiler” chickens get so big that they become crippled by their own weight. Is this true?
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Do you cut chickens’ beaks off so they can’t peck each other?
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So, really why did the chicken cross the road?
- Geoff P, NL
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What kind of growth hormones are allowed to be used in Canada?
- Chris B, QC
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What do poultry plants do with all the extra parts (beak, feathers, feet etc…)?
- Caitlin D, ON
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Is it true that fast food chicken is genetically engineered?
- Ryan A, ON
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Is it true that to de-feather a chicken it’s scalded with hot water while it’s still conscious?!
- Claire B, MB
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What kinds of chickens are raised for their meat in Canada?
- James P, BC
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Are there any rules or regulations around how many inches of floor space each chicken needs?
- Dale F, ON
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What do chickens eat?
- Genevieve C, ON
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How old are chickens when they go to market?
- Jeff M, QC
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What happens with all the chicken poop?
- Marty T, ON
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How are chickens fed? How do they drink water?
- Trevor L, ON
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Just curious, what’s the difference between ‘free range’ chickens and ‘free run’? Thanks!
- Alyssa P, ON
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Are chickens farmed year round in provinces with very cold winters?
- Andrew G, QC
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How long does it take for a chicken egg to hatch?
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How big do the chickens get?
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How are Canadian chickens kept?
See answer
Are chickens genetically modified?
See answer
What are broiler chickens?
See answer
What is the difference between faster and slower growing chickens?
See answer
Is the current growth rate of chickens bad for their welfare? Why not make the switch to slower growing breeds?
See answer
What do all the different labels in the grocery store mean?
See answer
Are antibiotics given to chickens raised for meat?
- Heather P, ON
Not all chickens are given antibiotics, but when they are, it’s to help keep birds healthy, for the sake of the animal, as well as for food safety. After all, only healthy chickens pass into the food stream. There’s lots more information about antibiotics on this page. Check it out!
Why do chicken farmers continue the use of steroids in chickens when it is harmful and completely unnecessary?
- David L, ON
Hi David. Thanks for your question. Actually, no steroids are used at all! Steroids (and hormones) are illegal for use in raising chicken in Canada, and have been since the 1960s.
Do farmers use steroids or other hormones to grow huge chickens?
I heard you keep chickens in tiny cages where they can barely move.
I’ve read that “broiler” chickens get so big that they become crippled by their own weight. Is this true?
It’s not true Sophie. A “broiler” chicken simply means a chicken that’s raised for meat, and all chickens raised in Canada only reach a natural healthy weight. Chickens in Canada are typically processed when they reach about 2 kg. Canadian chicken farmers follow a national Animal Care Program which sets out requirements for carefully monitoring bird health and welfare. Chickens are free to eat and drink on their own – if they were crippled, they wouldn’t be able to eat and grow! You can learn more about how Canadian chickens are raised by checking out this section of the website.
Do you cut chickens’ beaks off so they can’t peck each other?
So, really why did the chicken cross the road?
- Geoff P, NL
Chickens are very curious animals and will often explore new things in their environment. So Geoff, to answer your question, the chicken that crossed the road was probably just curious to see what was on the other side!
What kind of growth hormones are allowed to be used in Canada?
- Chris B, QC
None! In fact, all hormones and steroids are illegal for use in raising chickens in Canada.
What do poultry plants do with all the extra parts (beak, feathers, feet etc…)?
- Caitlin D, ON
Hi Caitlin, that’s a great question. Every chicken processing plant has a slightly different approach, but no part goes unused. These parts can be used in the making of plastics, some are sold for specialty markets, and some processing plants even use them as biofuel to power the plant.
Is it true that fast food chicken is genetically engineered?
- Ryan A, ON
No, Ryan, it’s not true. The genetic engineering of chicken isn’t permitted in Canada. Check out this info sheet to learn the real reason that chickens grow faster today than they did in the past.
Is it true that to de-feather a chicken it’s scalded with hot water while it’s still conscious?!
- Claire B, MB
No, this is not true. Chickens are processed in a humane way and all processing plants are inspected by either federal or provincial government officials to ensure this. The feathers are only removed after the chicken has been humanely killed and is unable to feel pain. To read more about the methods for processing chickens in Canada, check out this page.
What kinds of chickens are raised for their meat in Canada?
- James P, BC
The majority of chickens raised for their meat in Canada are cross breeds based on the Plymouth White Rock and the Cornish White. Some specialty breeds such as Silkies and Taiwanese Chickens are also raised for their meat.
Are there any rules or regulations around how many inches of floor space each chicken needs?
- Dale F, ON
Yes. The amount of floor space required for each chicken is specified in the Code of Practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council. In Canada, we have a national Animal Care Program which is mandatory for chicken farmers and that is how the Code of Practice gets enforced. The maximum weight allowed per unit of floor space is 31 kg/m2, and with additional record keeping and monitoring this may be increased to 38 kg/m2. At these stocking densities, birds can still move freely and stand up normally, turn around, and stretch their wings without difficulty. But it should be noted also that these are maximum densities for the very end of the birds’ life when they are the biggest, so up until the last day, it is even less dense than this.
What do chickens eat?
- Genevieve C, ON
Grains and grain by-products make up the largest portion of the feed. Protein meals and fat, from both plant and animal sources are used to balance the diet for energy and protein. Vitamins and minerals are supplied by concentrated supplements, similar to a multivitamin for humans. Enzymes, purified amino acids, and other feed additives improve productive efficiency through better feed digestion, and reduce the environmental impact of poultry production.

Tip: Although only some producers label their chicken meat as “grain-fed,” ALL chicken available in Canada is grain-fed!

Chicken feed is also an excellent way to recycle by-products from other industries. Soybean meal, for example, is a by-product of the production of soy oil. Wheat used in chicken feed typically was grown for the human food market, but was downgraded due to poor growing conditions. Products like these that are unsuitable for human consumption and would otherwise be landfilled can be recycled through chicken production.
How old are chickens when they go to market?
- Jeff M, QC
Most chickens are 5-6 weeks old when they go to market. However, in some cases, (such as organic chickens and roasters) birds are raised for a few extra weeks. For more information about how chickens get from farm to table have a look at this page.
What happens with all the chicken poop?
- Marty T, ON
Barns are cleaned after every flock and the chicken poop can be composted, used as fertilizer on the fields, or even used on the farm as biomass fuel.
How are chickens fed? How do they drink water?
- Trevor L, ON
Hi Trevor, thanks for your question. Chickens are free to get their own food and water. Feeders and water lines are installed in the barns and adjusted as the birds grow, so they can access water and food whenever they are hungry and thirsty.
Just curious, what’s the difference between ‘free range’ chickens and ‘free run’? Thanks!
- Alyssa P, ON
Hi Alyssa, thanks for your question. There are no legal definitions for “free run” or “free range” in Canada, but generally “free run” means the chickens can move around freely within the barn. All chickens raised for fresh meat in Canada are considered free run. The term “free range” broadly refers to poultry that has been permitted to graze or forage outdoors. Check out our Wheel of Chicken to see what all the labels mean.
Are chickens farmed year round in provinces with very cold winters?
- Andrew G, QC
Yes. Chickens are raised year-round in Canada thanks to climate-controlled barns where the chickens are free to roam, eat and drink.
How long does it take for a chicken egg to hatch?
It takes 21 days for a chick to hatch from an egg. Chicks are delivered to the farm from the hatchery, usually the same day they are hatched.
How big do the chickens get?
Most chickens are ready for market when they weigh around 2 kg. It takes 35 to 36 days for chickens to reach this weight. You may see chickens in other sizes too, although they are not as common. Roasters are bigger birds grown to 3 or 4 kg in 45 to 55 days, while smaller birds, or Cornish hens, may be marketed at around 1kg.
How are Canadian chickens kept?
Chickens raised for meat – called broilers – are kept in climate-controlled barns to protect against heat, cold, predators and diseases. The chickens are free to run (or roam) large areas at will and have access to feed and water 24 hours a day. This type of rearing is called free-run. To learn more about how chickens are raised in Canada, have a look at this page.
Are chickens genetically modified?
Poultry breeding companies have used the process of genetic selection to carefully select for desirable traits in broiler chickens. This is the same process that gives us Great Danes and Chihuahuas – it is not genetic modification.
What are broiler chickens?
A broiler chicken is the term used to describe a chicken raised for meat.
What is the difference between faster and slower growing chickens?
At present, commercial broiler chickens in Canada generally reach about 2 kilograms in 35 to 36 days. “Slower-growing” chickens or “heritage breeds” are chickens that can take almost twice as long to reach market weight because they do not convert feed to muscle as quickly. Because of this, these breeds require more feed, fuel, water and land per pound of meat to sustain their growth. As a result, this type of chicken can cost over $2 USD per kg more than conventional chicken. Check out this info sheet for more details on the topic.
Is the current growth rate of chickens bad for their welfare? Why not make the switch to slower growing breeds?
Over half of the traits that breeding companies measure are related to animal wellbeing, such as leg health and footpad dermatitis, and others are for production traits like more efficient growth. At the same time that growth rate has increased, a number of health and welfare parameters of chickens have actually improved as well:

  • Mortality levels have declined significantly compared to the slower growing broilers raised in the 1940s.1
  • Selection for improved leg health has resulted in less lameness.2
  • Condemnation rates of Canadian broiler chickens have decreased considerably since 1999.3
  • The incidence of ascites in broiler chickens has decreased significantly over time.3
The difficulty of phasing in slower growing broilers is the implication for the efficiency of the birds. This is not just about food affordability, but affects the sustainability and environmental impact of chicken production overall. Slower growing birds have higher total energy requirements because it takes longer for them to reach market weight. This means more corn and soybeans to feed them; more land and water to grow the feed; more fuel and emissions for transportation; and more manure produced.

Check out this info sheet or this website for more details on this topic.

1. National Chicken Council, "U.S. Broiler Performance," September 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/u-s-broiler-performance/. [Accessed February 2017].
2. D. N. Kapell, W. G. Hill, A. M. Neeteson, J. McAdam, A. N. Koerhuis and S. Avendaño, "Twenty-five years of selection for improved leg health in purebred broiler lines and underlying genetic parameters," Poultry Science, vol. 91, pp. 3032-3043, 2012.
3. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, "Poultry Condemnation Report by Species for Federally Inspected Plants," October 2016. [Online]. Available: http://aimis-simia.agr.gc.ca/rp/index-eng.cfm?menupos=1.01.04&action=pR&pdctc=&r=133&LANG=EN. [Accessed February 2017].
What do all the different labels in the grocery store mean?
Check out our Wheel of Chicken to see what all the labels mean.