Technology can modify our environment and our lives. It can affect other species too, like chickens, according to this Wall Street Journal article. (Sorry, only paying subscribers will get access to it.)
You can herd pigs or cattle, but not chickens.
For that reason, poultry farmers have long relied on human catchers. Their job is to run around inside chicken houses, nabbing by hand more than eight billion birds a year. This is hard not only on the chickens, which get roughed up, but also on the catchers. The birds flap, scratch and befoul their captors. Most people can tolerate only a few months of that before flying the coop.
Now after years of attempts that ended in failure, including one ill-fated chicken vacuum, manufacturers have finally produced machines capable of catching and caging chickens. Looking like a combination airport baggage carousel and tank, the devices can capture 150 birds a minute. That's as many as a team of eight skilled men can corral.
"Automation is the way to go," says Brad Cole, live-production manager for a Tyson Foods Inc. slaughter plant in Georgia, the nation's top poultry-producing state.
Now, new machines built by Bright Coop Inc., Techno-Catch LLC, Anglia Autoflow Ltd or Lewis/Mola LLC's are purchased for around $200,000 by chicken companies.
Here is a picture of the nine-ton, 42-foot-long Lewis/Mola LLC's model PH2000 mechanical chicken harvester.
Not only mechanical catching is faster than manual one, it also decreases the risks of injuries for the chickens.
That's good news for the birds, and also for the industry. Bruising disqualifies a chicken from the supermarket meat counter, relegating it to less profitable uses such as livestock feed. The fast-food industry is also encouraging mechanical catchers, eager to assure customers that they care about the humane treatment of animals. McDonald's Corp. is encouraging its chicken suppliers to mechanically collect at least half the birds it buys by year's end.
But why do chickens need to be caught in the first place?
Birds raised for meat are allowed to roam freely inside giant barns, [but] are in fact deeply reluctant to move at all. Because they are bred to reach their slaughter weight of six pounds in less than eight weeks -- a fraction of the normal time -- they are basically babies in giant bodies. The trick is to get them into their cages for the short trip to the slaughterhouse without injuring them.
Next time you buy a chicken in your supermarket, please remember that it might not have suffered too much -- at least to be caught.
Source: Scott Kilman, The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2003
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