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I am confused by conflicting information I am finding online about the most common practices for raising chickens for meat.

I found two sources that state that meat chickens are primarily female:

Male chicks will never grow up to lay eggs and they don’t grow fast enough to raise them for meat (virtually all the chicken meat we eat comes from female birds).

"Scientists developed a way to end the brutal practice of killing male chicks", Chase Purdy, December 24, 2018, Quartz

This is an article from a news publication, but I'm not sure if it is interpreting the referenced data accurately, or if there is a confusion with the situation with chickens raised for laying eggs (where for obvious reasons, male chicks are not raised) or dual-use chickens (raised for both eggs and poultry) vs. chickens raised exclusively for meat and not for egg-laying. When I look at the linked Al-Jazeera article ("The short, brutal life of male chickens", by Elisabeth Braw, February 20, 2015), I find that it says

For the past 50 years or so, farmers and the poultry industry have begun to breed chickens to be either egg layers or meat.

and

Males of the egg-laying breeds are of little value, as only a few roosters are required for reproduction. A day after they’re hatched, chicks are sexed (their gender determined), with the unfortunate males heading straight to the grinder for use as animal feed.

It doesn't actually seem to say anything about what happens to males of chickens raised for meat.

The second article is just from some website, allegedly written by someone who has "always lived with chickens at home":

One thing to know about chicken meat is that the chicken that you eat in your favorite fast-food restaurant as well as at home is actually from the meat of the female chicken or the hen.

In fact, you have probably never eaten male chickens or roosters ever before in your life, especially if you simply rely on fast-food restaurants and grocery stores when it comes to the chicken meat that you eat.

Why Do We Not Eat Male Chickens? (The truth behind this), Patrick FROMAGET, chickenslife.com

I am pretty doubtful of its reliability, but according to Fromaget, male chicken meat is edible, but male chicks are culled because roosters are more aggressive than hens. I'm skeptical about how applicable the argument about aggression is to broiler chickens, which I understand are often slaughtered before reaching a year old (and so before the males would have grown into adult roosters).

On the other hand, I've found a number of online sources that indicate that both male and female broilers are commonly raised for meat:

-"Are Chickens Female? What Most People Don’t Know", November 13, 2020, by Susan, Hen Raising:

Another common misconception about chickens is that we get meat from the females only.

That’s also not true because both male and female chickens are used to produce meat, and this happens everywhere in the world.

(Another article from this same website: Is Rooster Meat Sold As Chicken? [Can You Eat A Male Chicken?])

Both male and female chickens are used to produce chicken meat. That’s the case right around the world.

Unlike the case for the egg industry, where only hens are required to lay the eggs that are sold for human consumption, both male and female meat chickens can be and are grown for meat and are equally valued by the chicken meat industry. This is just one of many differences between the two industries…. other differences include that meat chickens are never grown in cages and come from completely different breeds of chickens than egg laying chickens (for more information about the breeds used by the two industries see my earlier blog: no cages for meat chickens).

Meat chickens aren’t generally limited to a single chicken’s sex, unlike egg layers (only female chickens lay eggs). This is for several reasons.

  • Meat chickens are most usually slaughtered and processed before full maturity to maximize meat tenderness and minimize any noticeable differences between the cuts of meat.
  • It’s hard to be certain of a chicken’s sex before full maturity.

It is practically impossible to know whether meat comes from a male or female chicken as they taste almost the same. Generally, chickens are grown together in the same barns and its impossible to distinguish them in the early stages. The difference between both sexes starts to emerge only after a month, and Chickens are generally collected for human consumption before they reach their sexual maturity.

The chicken on your plate is not the same chicken that laid the eggs in your omelette. Chickens are specifically bred for either purpose. Those used for meat production are known as broilers, while those used for egg production are known as layers. At a genetic level, these two types of chicken are slightly different animals.

Broiler chickens are genetically programmed to turn their feed into muscle, getting as big as possible, as quickly as possible. Laying chickens, on the other hand, are predisposed to laying eggs instead of plumping up their muscles. While male and female chickens can both be used as broilers, layers are a different story.

The latter sources seem more plausible to me, but what I really want is to get an definitive answer from a reliable source that isn't just a blog post or online news article.

Are any such reliable sources available, e.g. journal articles or some kind of official statistics or reports that cover this topic?


note: All bolding in quotations was added by me for emphasis.

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    This seems more like a question you should ask biology, not skeptics
    – CJR
    Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 13:33
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    Just to confuse things, the Cornish game hen is not "game", and is quite often not "hen". They are simply very young chickens, which includes both male and female sexes. Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 15:32
  • @CJR this would not be on topic on Biology since it isn't a question about the chicken's biology but about how human society chooses to raise and use the animal. Nothing biological at all.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 10:40
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    It is not true that male and female chicks are indistinguishable. Trained chicken sexers can rapidly identify them flying by on conveyor belts after they’re only a day old. I’ve seen videos of them at work and I don’t know what they’re looking at but they’re good at what they do.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 20:14

1 Answer 1

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The National Chicken Council, an industry partner of companies like Tyson, has a FAQ for US chicken production:

Healthy male chicks are not euthanized in broiler production (chickens raised for meat, not eggs). Both healthy male and females are hatched and raised in broiler production.

According to the USDA, "broiler chickens… provide virtually all U.S. chicken meat".

Male broilers of two common breeds were found to be heavier than the females according to a study. Males also eat more aggressively, which is why the practice of "nose boning" used to be widespread for broiler breeder roosters, to try to keep them on their starvation diet.

With egg chickens, on the other hand, it is very common to get rid of the males as fast as possible, if not as day-old chicks then as eggs. (Supermarket eggs are unfertilized, so neither male nor female.) There is one company that actually raises the males for consumption:

In the US, around 300 million male chicks are culled annually in the egg industry. But Kipster, a Dutch company and newcomer to the US egg market, has instead found a purpose for these chickens as an alternative meat source.

In the coming weeks, the first Kipster roosters will reach 15 weeks of age. These American roosters will then be processed into meat products for human consumption.

This matches what the Australian Chicken Meat Federation says. They represent companies which produce most of the chicken meat in Australia.

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    The reference to nose boning is unneeded. This procedure is / was only done to the very few broiler chickens raised to supply the next generation of broiler chickens. Broiler chickens have been genetically selected to have huge weight gain problems. The vast majority of broiler chickens are killed after just six weeks for their meat. We eat tender obese chicks (male as well as female) rather than stringy adult chickens. Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 15:35
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    One way to look at broiler chickens is that they are machines that turn barely edible (by humans) chicken feed into tasty chick meat. A few broiler chicks need to be spared the axe so as to provide new chicks that will shortly succumb to the axe after hatching. It takes about twenty weeks for a broiler chicken to reach sexual maturity. Those few that are spared the axe are put on a starvation diet to combat the obesity issues that have been genetically selected for in broiler chickens. Commented Jan 1, 2023 at 15:37
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    "neither male nor female". Unfertilized eggs aren't neither sex, they aren't even chickens. Just female gamete. Such eggs are obviously only good for eating and never breeding. (Just nit picking. Good answer.)
    – user11643
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 4:51
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    I grew up on a chicken farm (layers, not broilers). We bought day-old chicks and raised them. In each box of 100 chicks there were 4 spare to make up for errors in sexing. Indeed there were usually about 4 cockerels in every box, which became apparent as they grew. Obviously we didn't need them as layers, so we ate a lot of chicken. They were stringy but tasty. Until I left home and had broiler chicken I didn't know chicken could be plump and juicy.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:04

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