Chickens Have Become Four Times Larger Since 1950s

Andrei Tapalaga

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Comparison of chicken weight throughout three different periodsChickenCheckIn

Our culture has reached a stage where everyone fills their shopping carts without any regard for product or pricing adjustments over time. Consumerism has been a beneficial social and economic trend that has boosted the global economy, but its negative side is that it is ruining our earth by making people so demanding in terms of what they consume.

Although most product packaging has remained relatively the same over the last 60 years, the little writing that no one reads has evolved dramatically. The change in weight of an average chicken over time is the finest example of this. Do not believe that the shift in weight occurred spontaneously via evolution; rather, it was driven by farmers who were under pressure to match consumer expectations and businesses' profit margins.

The rarity of a natural chicken

The ideology of consumerism started being applied for the first time in America during the 1950s, but this was mainly with highly processed products. Once the economy started to develop and inflation would take its toll, corporations realized that their profit margins would start to stagger. Therefore, these corporations came up with a very clever marketing concept of increasing the size of a product by lowering its nutrition values (which initially is what makes it expensive to produce) and replacing it with different types of fats.

This would follow to have a psychological effect on consumers who would be more willing to purchase something if they saw that they would pay the same price but receive more of the produce, but are they in reality? The same thing was done with chicken because it had always been the most consumed animal around the world.

If you think that a label saying that your chicken is bred in a “friendly farm”, then you are a victim of consumerism. One interesting aspect is the changes that humans had forcefully made to animals. The original ancestor of the modern chicken is the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) which was extremely similar to the chickens served on tables before the 1960s.

The difference between today’s chickens and the red junglefowl from 2000 years ago is its natural weight as well as appearance. Your average chicken didn’t use to be white, not even in the early 20th century. White chickens are something imposed by corporations for farmers to breed-specific species in order to be more attractive to consumers! A similar aspect is done with vegetables that grow in an odd shape. Did you know that 40% of vegetables don’t make it to the shelves because of this?

Besides the imposed color of the chicken, the most important factor is weight:

  • The average weight of a chicken 2000 years ago was 900 grams.
  • The average weight of a chicken 60 years ago was 900 grams.
  • The average weight of a chicken 40 years ago was 2,000 grams.
  • The average weight of a chicken today is 4,500 grams…

What happened? The imposed changes of consumerism. Consumers wanted more products or more “value for their money”, corporations wanted more profits, and farmers were sadly caught in the middle. Farmers need to respect the desires of big companies, otherwise, they will eventually go out of business. Most farmers are not happy to turn their farms into factories, but there isn’t much of a rational choice.

The unnatural evolution of chickens

What farmers started doing around 1955 is stuffing their chickens with as much food as possible in order to fatten them since the first day they hatch. This worked for a few years, until inflation hit harder, once again lowering the power of purchase for consumers and the profit margins. This is where corporations started playing with the genetics of chickens, making them gain weight much quicker since they hatch.

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Chicken sizes from 1957, 1978, and 2005 from the Journal of Poultry ScienceJournal of Poultry Science

An old study shows how a chicken that just hatched gained weight gradually at different stages. The study mentions that the average weight of a chick on day 1 would be around 38 grams, after two weeks 60 grams and after a month about 115 grams. Another study published in 2011 showed how chickens have been genetically altered to gain weight much quicker. The chick would have 38 grams on day one, but after two weeks it would weigh 300 grams.

by the late 1990s, the genes of some species of chickens would be edited in order to produce more eggs so that corporations could obtain more products with less investment. It is not just the weight, that is gained, but the way these chickens grow with abnormal breasts (the most demanded part of the chicken). Besides raising the possibility of the chicken becoming sick, this also brings a lot more pain as the chicken’s legs weren’t made to support four to five times their natural weight.

It is estimated that chickens will end up reaching the average size of a small turkey by 2030 (around 7,800 grams) at the rate consumerism keeps creating more demand. We might actually end up seeing chickens reaching a larger size than roosters, now wouldn’t that be abnormal? Not that things are very normal lately. Overall, all these changes lower the quality of life for chickens, but that is something no one cares about, because if they did they would stop buying and consuming them.

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