Raising Chickens with Care
Livestock producers have an obligation to the animals they raise: to provide the best possible standard of care. At Tecumseh Farms, this means handling chickens the right way, through humane practices, comfortable living conditions, and protocols that promote the health and wellbeing of the birds every step of the way.
Humane Animal Care
All organic Smart Chicken® products are certified humane through the HFAC (Humane Farm Animal Care) program. Established in 2003, the program is supported by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the Humane Society of the United States, and by other regional and local animal welfare and protection organizations. “Tecumseh Farms is one of few broiler producers that has attained certification from Humane Farm Animal Care,” says Tecumseh Farms’ Vice President of Live Operations Bill Schellpeper.
In fact, the comprehensiveness of the program is what encouraged Tecumseh Farms to seek its certification. The program’s criterion are more rigorous, demanding, and effective than those offered by competing organizations, as they extend from handling procedures and conditions on the farm, through transportation and sacrifice. “It is arguably the most stringent humane handling certification attainable,” notes Bill.
HFAC standards were originally outlined with the species natural socialization bahviors and requirements for health, safety, and comfort. For chickens, this means they’re provided ample space to fly, flap their wings, and dust bathe. They must also have space to engage in natural social behaviors like perching.
The program goes on to require that producers eliminate the use of antibiotics (and hormones, which are illegal in poultry production in the U.S., but are still used in other livestock operations). Unlike voluntary tiered structures set up by other organizations, HFAC’s requirements are all-inclusive and mandatory, which means that producers seeking certification must abide by all of the program’s standards.
Certification offers three key advantages, the benefits of which ultimately accrue to the birds as well as to consumers: animals live in an environment in which their natural behaviors are allowed and their comfort and welfare are paramount; employees at all levels are ensured a safe and comfortable workplace environment; and the quality of the end-product is superior.
All Tecumseh Farms chickens are free-roam, which means they’re never caged or confined; instead they’re able to roam and engage in natural behaviors with ready access to feed and water at all times.
Tecumseh Farms’ organic line takes it a step further, attaining the free-range authentication. According to the USDA’s National Organic Program, in order for Tecumseh Farms organic birds to be free-range, the farms “must establish and maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of the animals.” This includes “access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight, which must be suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.” As part of the National Organic Program, Smart Chicken’s organic product line complies with these standards at all times.
Leading The Industry
Tecumseh Farms upholds humane handling standards at every stage, including harvest. When Tecumseh Farms chickens are ready for harvest, they are caught and loaded by hand by trained personnel. The industry standard is to use catching machines, which are certainly more efficient, but can be particularly violent. Catching chickens by hand, after dark when they are most relaxed, virtually eliminates stress and injury to the birds (both of which can impact the quality of the end product).
In 2005, Tecumseh Farms became the first chicken producer in the country to implement CAS (Controlled Atmosphere Stunning), taking humane handling all the way to harvest. Instead of restraining and electrically stunning fully conscious birds, which is the standard in the U.S. poultry industry, the CAS method slowly puts them to sleep. The birds do not gasp, struggle, flap, or resist, instead remaining calm and relaxed. The process is not only more humane, but it also creates a better working environment for employees.
In the end, it’s a simple concept: Produce a better product, and do it a better way. “At Tecumseh Farms, we’ve found that the higher the standard of humane farm animal care,” says Bill Schellpeper, “the higher the quality of the end-product.”