Research reveals just how sustainable it is for chicken farming

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Chicken is easily Australia’s favourite meat and it turns out it’s an excellent environmental choice as well
Chickens are the most efficient converters of feed into meat of all land-based livestock species

With agricultural industries across Australia looking at how they can operate more sustainably, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation thinks the time is right to promote the attributes of the humble hen.

The organisation claims that chicken has the lowest environmental footprint of any meat and that this is thanks in large part to the intensive farming practises employed in the industry.

According to the Federation, one of the biggest determinants of how much energy is used, and greenhouse gasses created, in the production of livestock products (like chicken and other meats and dairy products) is how efficiently the animals convert feed into edible product.

This is because feed represents the biggest source of these impacts. The good news, apparently, is that chickens are the most efficient converters of feed into meat of all land-based livestock species.

The Federation’s opinion piece says the way most chickens are reared today, where they are housed in large sheds or barns that have been designed so that they provide, as closely as is possible, their ideal climatic conditions.

A place where food and water are laid on continuously and the birds are fed a diet which very precisely matches their ideal dietary nutrient profile for each stage of growth, this all means that growth is optimised while minimising the amount of feed the birds require to grow.

Chickens are expected to have easy access to clean drinking water

These farming systems are also said to reduce the amount of energy that the chickens themselves need to put into maintaining their body temperature and in finding food and water.

All this supposedly translates to more efficient use of feed, energy and water to produce each kg of chicken meat – and less greenhouse gas emissions created.

The above claims also apply for free range production systems, where the chickens are also housed in large sheds, but also have access to an outdoor range area during daylight hours once they have reached an age where they are relatively safe from predation and can better cope with variable outside temperatures.

To back up these claims, the author appeals to studies employing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies.

LCA is a tool which is being used worldwide to estimate the environmental impacts associated with producing a particular product from ‘cradle-to-grave’, taking into account all the environmental impacts involved in producing the product, including those generated in creating the inputs into a particular product.

For example, the impacts associated with producing the grains that are fed to the chickens, or in generating the energy that might be used on farm or in the processing plant.

There is plenty of modern equipment such as telehandlers to clean-out sheds efficiently

Research conducted on the environmental impacts of Australian chicken meat have confirmed that chicken meat production generates low levels of greenhouse gas emissions and results in modest levels of energy and water use. 

Click here to listen to Stephen Wiedemann, the Agricultural Scientist who worked on this research, talking about chicken meat production and its environmental impact. 

The report on this research, “Using Life Cycle Assessment to Quantify the Environmental Impact of Chicken Meat Production”, is available here.

The results from the Australian LCA are broadly consistent with a significant body of overseas research that confirms that poultry production is the most environmentally sustainable (land-based) way to produce quality animal protein for human consumption.

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