We all love chicken, don’t we? Just look at the number of eateries specialising in chicken – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Ayamas, Nando’s, Kenny Rogers Roasters, the Chicken Rice Shop…guess it is because chicken is not offensive. There are no religious taboos attached to it, unlike beef and pork, so it is an important source of animal protein for most families, and it is also the cheapest.
But do you know where our chickens come from?
If you ask a child, say a 5 year old, the answer may be quite different coming from one who lives in a kampung kid and one who lives in the city. The one from the kampung will probably tell you without hesitation that chickens come from eggs! They would have seen chicks hatch from eggs laid by chickens. And they would have seen the chicks grow into roosters and hens.
The city child would probably tell you that chicken comes from the supermarket or KFC or any one of the eateries mentioned above. I doubt very much if they kids have seen a live chicken unless their mothers have taken them shopping at the local wet market where there is a ‘live’ poultry section.
The chickens we buy actually come from imported premier breeds from Australia, Canada, USA and Europe. Cobbs and Ross are the predominant breeds because they are known for their fast growth rate, liveability, low levels of activity, reliable meat production, good feed conversion rate (converting feed mass into body mass) and excellent meat quality.
To keep it simple, our chicken / broiler industry consists of breeder farms, hatcheries, and broiler farms. Day-old chicks produced by hatcheries owned by the breeder farms or by independent hatcheries, are supplied to broiler farms to produce table birds. Of course, the breeder farms rear too. When the birds weigh between 1.8 kg to 2 kg, they will be marketed and usually within a 42 day period. How fast is that – 6 weeks?! Thanks to the premier chicken breeds and an advanced commercialised and integrated production system, this industry has seen continuous transformation, adopting modern production and feeding technology whenever available.
For example, Ayamas Food Corporation’s hatcheries’ use incubators and hatchers imported from Chickmaster USA, where an evaporative cooling system creates an environment conducive for hatching. Similarly, their chicks are reared in temperature-controlled chicken houses, well spaced from the others to minimise disease outbreak and contamination. And they are fed nutritionally formulated-feeds (based on corn and soya bean meal). Strict sanitation procedures and bio-security controls are practiced at all times – and they should!
The last stage is the processing of the birds. They are slaughtered using halal methods of course. According to the Federation of Livestock Farmers’ Associations of Malaysia, about 30 % of broilers are channelled through modern processing plants and sold as dressed birds in supermarkets, hotels and restaurants while the remainder (70%) is sold live or as slaughtered birds in wet markets.
Our supply of chicken of course is not confined to the conventionally-raised broiler chickens described above. We have the free running chicken or kampung chicken. This type of organic chicken as it were, is often sought after as a healthier option as they are perceived to have better flavour, leaner and less fatty as they are allowed to ‘run’. And they also fetch a higher price.
Coming back to the city child, we must educate our children so that they know where their food comes from and their names as well. I watched a Jamie Oliver programme recently where he asked a whole class of 6 year olds in a school in the US what the names of the vegetables he showed them were – none of them knew any of the names! Not even the carrot! Shocking! We must not let our children fall into this trap of ignorance, so that when we ask them: Do you know where the chicken comes from? They will all be clamouring to tell you – with the correct answer!