Nutritional credentials of chicken stack up

With National Nutrition Week (including World Food Day – 16 October) just around the corner (National Nutrition Week 16-22 October), it’s a perfect opportunity to remind readers of the nutritional attributes of chicken.

So, what’s so great about chicken? And what role does it have as part of a healthy balanced diet?

The most important nutritional fact to remember about chicken meat is that it is an excellent source of high quality protein while having generally lower fat levels (and particularly saturated fatty acids) compared with other meats.

Many people incorrectly believe that chicken doesn’t provide the same density or quality of protein that red meat delivers – the reality is quite different. In fact, the protein content of all meats (chicken, beef, lamb and pork) is almost identical – around 22% for raw lean trimmed meat cuts.

Some other key facts about the nutritional quality of chicken:

  • Chicken is really low in fat compared with other meats
  • Chicken is really low in saturated fatty acids compared with other meats
  • All meats provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, and different meats may provide these at different levels. For example, beef and lamb contain more iron and zinc that chicken meat, but chicken is one of the best sources (and highest of all meats) of niacin, an important nutrient for energy metabolism.

Lean Chicken - Packed With Protein

If you want to compare the nutritional content of different meats, here is a simple tool you can play with that allows you to select different meats and compare their nutrient profiles: This tool uses data available from NUTTAB (2006 version), the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) online database of the nutritional composition of Australian food stuffs.

Make sure you compare like with like (for example, only compare raw with raw, cooked with cooked; or highest quality cuts with their equivalent in other meat types, as I have done in the example used below to illustrate the sort of information you can generate.

Nutrition Database

Remember that different cuts of chicken vary in terms of their nutrient profile. This is particularly the case for fat levels. Since most of the fat in chicken is in the skin, cuts which are generally eaten with skin-on or which have a high proportion of skin, such as wings, will have a higher fat content than cuts generally eaten with skin off, like breast fillet. Fortunately (a) it is easy to remove the skin and to trim any surplus fat from chicken meat and, (b) breast meat is not only the leanest part of the chicken, but it represents almost half of the edible meat you get on a whole chicken (representing between 41 and 49% of the total weight of edible chicken on a carcase).

You can also use our online comparison tool to compare the nutrient content of different cuts of chicken, or different cooking styles.

But the good news for chicken meat lovers doesn’t end there, because:

  • Chicken remains by far the most affordable lean meat on the Australian market.
  • Chicken is extremely versatile and easy to cook with …there are plenty of ways to prepare and enjoy it.
  • Surveys tell us that chicken is a food which is popular with the whole family, so it’s easy to include it in meals that the whole family will enjoy.

So, feel free to feel good about eating chicken…it’s a great option and can play an important role as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Are meat chickens male or female?

The simple answer to this commonly asked question is: “both”.

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).

While it’s not possible to know whether the meat that you buy has come from a male or a female chicken (they will look and taste the same), roughly 50% of the meat chickens grown in Australia will be males and 50% females.

Are they grown differently? Do they look different?

These days, both male and female meat chickens are generally grown together in the same barns. Indeed, it’s impossible to distinguish between them when they are day old chicks delivered to farms around Australia. However, from about 30 days of age physical differences between the two sexes start to emerge, and by the time they are collected for processing for human consumption (which is before they have reached sexual maturity), it is possible to differentiate between young male and female meat chickens in a flock.

Males are a bit ‘meatier’ in their breasts, their legs and feet are thicker and their combs and wattles (the red floppy fleshy bits on top of their head and below their chin respectively) are bigger, brighter and more noticeable.

Blog Sketch_MaleFemale Chickens_160822F (002)

Male chickens tend to grow a bit faster, and at the same age will be a bit bigger than their female counterparts. Therefore, while the ratio of males to females when they hatch is roughly 50:50 (slightly more males, for some reason), when we look at which of the sexes contributes the most meat, it probably works out more like and 55% from males : 45% for females.

Are any of the meat chicks that hatch not placed on farms?

A small percentage of chicks (less than 1%) that hatch may be too weak or otherwise unfit to survive the first few days after hatching, and it is the responsibility of hatchery staff to identify these and euthanise them at the hatchery so that they do not suffer.

All fit and healthy day old meat chickens that are hatched are sent out to farms.

Male or female? Can you pick the difference?

The meat chickens in the foreground of the photos below are the same age and from the same flock. Can you tell what sex they are?

Male and female-1

If you are interested in hearing more from the industry then follow our monthly blog posts and regular #MythBustingMonday tweets @chookinfoline

The Chicken Family Tree

In 2016, Australian chicken farms will produce over 590 million meat chickens. But where do they come from?

It may be obvious, but it’s something most people don’t think about – every meat chicken has a set of parents, and those parents have their own parents, and so on up the line. But where are these parents, grandparents and great grandparents? Where are they kept and what do they look like? And how does the whole chicken breeding and multiplication process work?

This is the story of the Australian meat chicken’s family tree…and it starts, not here in Australia, but overseas in the nucleus breeding operations of the world’s two largest poultry genetics companies.

Our chicken genetics come from overseas

Almost all of Australia’s meat chickens are derived from two large international poultry genetics companies – Aviagen and Cobb – and the specific hybrid breeds used here (referred to as ‘Ross’ and ‘Cobb’) are pretty much the same as are used right around the world. Because of the size of their breeding operations, and therefore the numbers of birds and flocks they can maintain and are therefore available to select from, these genetics companies have powerful selective breeding programs and are able to make significant improvements to the genetic potential of their breeds at each generation. We call the genetic flocks they maintain the ‘nucleus’ breeding flocks – and it’s all achieved using conventional selective breeding techniques.

In a previous blog (see selective breeding), I described how selective breeding works, why it’s done, and what attributes the breeding companies select for.

How do we get these genetics into Australia?

New genetic lines of meat chickens developed by the international breeding companies are imported, under strict quarantine, as fertile eggs. Typically, there might be, say, 12,000 fertile eggs in a single importation, and 2 – 3 new importations each year for each major breed. These fertile eggs are hatched out in quarantine stations in Australia before being released to breeder farms. We refer to this generation as the Great Grandparents (GGPs) of the meat chickens that are for eating. In actuality, at any importation there are a variety of different lines introduced. It’s a little complicated to explain, but this is done to provide for optimal attributes in the male and female lines of later generations, and to capture hybrid vigour in later generations. A little more on that later.

And what breeding happens in Australia?

The GGPs that come out of quarantine stations are housed in highly biosecure farms around Australia and themselves go on to produce fertile eggs that are hatched to produce the next generation – the Grandparent (GP) generation. The Grandparents are then used to produce a Parent (P) generation, and finally these Parents are mated to produce fertile eggs that hatch to become the ultimate generation – the 590 million meat chickens that are used for meat consumption annually.

At each breeding step, two things happen. Firstly, there are different breeding lines crossed to produce crossbred male and female lines for the next breeding generation and, secondly, the number of birds in the subsequent generation is multiplied up. Once mature (at about 20 weeks of age) each breeder hen can produce about 130 offspring in a single year.

The whole process is represented in the infographic below. This shows how the numbers of individual birds in each generation steadily increases through to the ultimate meat chicken generation, and – voila! – we end up with 590 million meat chickens.


Why do we import new Great Grandparents? Why don’t we just use existing meat chickens to breed more of the same?

The answer to the first question is simple….we import new chicken genetics on an ongoing basis because the strains are improving all the time. We would fall behind the rest of the world, and fail to deliver the benefits that ongoing selection offers to consumers, if we didn’t do so.

And while the meat chicken generation is perfectly capable of going on to maturity and themselves produce offspring, they are generally not used for breeding. The reason why they aren’t used is that, as I mentioned previously, several different genetic lines are brought in at each new importation, each of which has specific characteristics desired in the next generation. These lines are then crossed to produce a subsequent generation which differs again from the one before…and so on. The use of crossbreeding is common in animal production – it creates a stronger, more robust progeny due to the principle of ‘hybrid vigour’, whereby the robustness and health of the cross is greater than the average of their parents. It’s the opposite of inbreeding – a concept people may be more familiar with. The greater the genetic differences between the parents, the more to gain from hybrid vigour. In the case of the Parents of the ultimate meat chicken generation, the male and female parent lines each also bring their own characteristics – the male, good muscling and body weight, and the breeder hen the capacity to lay plenty of fertile eggs to be hatched into meat chickens.

So the meat comes from Australian chickens?

Yes – the chicken meat available across Australia is almost exclusively from meat chickens grown in Australia, even though their ancestors may have come from other parts of the world. They are genuine “fourth generation” Australian meat chickens.

But… what comes first?

Well, the above may not answer the age old rhetorical question “what comes first…the chicken or the egg?” but I hope it helps to explain a little about the breeding processes required to deliver the 590 million meat chickens required to meet the demands of Australia’s chicken meat consumers each year.

What’s this?

OK – what do you think this is? And what’s it got to do with chickens?

What's This?

Well, it’s a great but simple piece of technology that is used right across the chicken industry and which has helped to significantly improve the environment and welfare of millions of meat chickens grown in Australia every year….in fact 600 million of them.

It’s called a nipple drinker, and they are used to provide water to chickens in almost every chicken barn in Australia.

Nipple Drinker

How does it work?

The principle is quite clever really, because it uses the chickens’ natural attraction to and interest in pecking at shiny surfaces and objects to teach them to drink directly from the delivery point. Each nipple drinker point has a one way ‘valve’ that allows water to flow out, but doesn’t allow air or other materials to flow in. Chickens peck at the bottom of the stem of the nipple and it releases water directly into their beak before closing off again. The nipple only releases a droplet of water when it is pecked, but releases a droplet each time it is pecked, so there is always easy access to plenty of water for the birds.

Chickens using the drinker

Day old chicks are immediately attracted to the shiny stems of the drinker as soon as they are placed in their shed, and very quickly learn to drink from them.

Chicks Drinking

Most nipple drinking systems have a cup below the nipple, to catch any water inadvertently splashed or lost during drinking, or any leakage from the nipple.

Cups underneath the nipple catch any splashed or leaking water

How have they improved the environment for chickens?

Firstly, the chickens have access to fresh water that is straight from the water source, and has not sat around in open water troughs or cups where it could be open to contamination by dust, manure or microorganisms. Therefore, its way more hygienic than any other option for delivering drinking water to chickens.

Secondly, it prevents spillage of water from water receptacles onto the floor of the barn, keeping the bedding material in the shed drier and therefore the chickens themselves drier, cleaner and healthier.

For more insights into what a chicken farm looks like and how it operates, go to growing meat chickens, or have a look at the image gallery of chicken farms on the ACMF website.

Myth Busting #1: Is it safe to refreeze chicken?

Do you ever take some chicken out of the freezer to defrost before leaving for work in the morning, only to get home and not feel like cooking? I know I do!

A question we get asked often is whether it is safe to put the defrosted chicken back into the freezer, and the answer is YES! But, only if the chicken was defrosted below 5 degrees Celsius (usually means in the fridge), and wasn’t ‘defrosting’ for longer than 24 hours at this temperature.

The myth that it is not safe to re-freeze chicken meat that has been defrosted is a mix between two issues: quality and safety. While it is safe to put chicken that has been defrosted below 5 degrees, back into the freezer, freezing and re-freezing chicken may deteriorate the quality of the meat. The reduction in quality can be caused by a number of things, but it includes the formation of ice crystals in the cells of the meat that can ‘break down’ the meat so that it no longer looks as good as it did when it was bought. This affects the look of the chicken meat much more than the taste, and definitely does not affect the safety of the chicken – it is still fine to cook for dinner!

Any time chicken meat is defrosted, it is very important that it is defrosted in the fridge, below 5 degrees, and it is best to store defrosting meat on the lowest shelf in the fridge.

Why defrost in the fridge? If you defrost on the kitchen bench then re-freeze it, you’ll be storing any bacteria that have multiplied during thawing at room temperature, which can start growing again next time you defrost it! And the more bacteria that are present, the greater the risk that someone might get sick. Thorough cooking will destroy the bacteria though, so it is important to always ensure that chicken meat is cooked through, and that raw meat doesn’t come into contact with anything already cooked or that will be eaten raw (like some veggies).

Why the lowest shelf of the fridge? Well there are two reasons for this: 1. It is coldest at the bottom of the fridge and 2. It avoids any water or ‘meat juice’ from the defrosting chicken from dripping onto foods lower in the fridge. These reasons are really important for food safety, because any bacteria that might be present on the chicken meat (and therefore also in the juices) can grow at temperatures outside the fridge and this is when it can go ‘off’ and potentially make people sick if it isn’t handled correctly and cooked thoroughly.

So remember it is safe to re-freeze chicken meat that has been defrosted but always remember in the fridge and not for longer than a day.


For more information on busting this myth and food safety advice visit and

Food Safety

Poultry at the Sydney Royal Show

The Steggles Commercial Meat Chicken Pairs Competition at the Royal Agricultural Society’s Sydney Royal Easter Show just keeps going from strength to strength!

Each year, schools from around NSW get the chance to test their understanding of how meat chickens are grown, and just how much needs to be done and how well they need to be looked after in order to grow out to a size that they could be processed for human consumption.

The schools’ competition process was as follows:

  • All schools got exactly the same chickens; all chickens are from the same hatch.
  • All of the chicks were provided by Baiada Poultry, who markets chicken under the brands Steggles and Lilydale.
  • After six weeks in their care, schools got to select 2 female chickens and 2 male chickens to send to the Show for judging.
  • The chickens were judged by experts from Baiada Poultry on the opening day of the Show.

This year, 96 schools from around NSW took up the challenge….and challenging it was! The weeks leading up to the Show this year were particularly hot, which made keeping the chickens at the ideal temperatures and environmental conditions for optimal health particularly tricky – indeed, the judges were able to see in this year’s entries the impact of those conditions, with many entries not able to sustain adequate growth and bird vigour.

In selecting their winners, the judges take into account factors such as how well the birds have grown, how ’meaty’ they are, their overall health and vigour, whether they have any leg or feet issues that are indicative of sub-optimal housing or litter conditions, and also how similar in appearance the birds in each  pair are. All of these factors are important, not only commercially, but from a bird welfare perspective, so they are some of the same criteria used by the commercial industry to monitor how well flocks are performing in the field and how well they are cared for by commercial growers.

Above: The ACMF Assistant Executive Director, Dr Kylie Hewson and Executive Director Dr Vivien Kite, recording the judges’ comments.

Above: The ACMF Assistant Executive Director, Dr Kylie Hewson and Executive Director Dr Vivien Kite, recording the judges’ comments.

One unique aspect of this competition is that, not only are the pairs of chickens judged live, but they are also later processed and judged as carcases.

Above: Judge Jorge Ruiz from Baiada Poultry has his hands full judging the best female pair of carcases.

Above: Judge Jorge Ruiz from Baiada Poultry has his hands full judging the best female pair of carcases.

The standout pair of the competition for the judges this year was the male pair entered by Elderslie High School, Narellan – not only was this pair the clear winners in the live judging, but also went on to win the Best Meat Bird Pair in the carcase competition. Elderslie High School also exhibited the Best Commercial Meat Bird female pair, but it was the very even female pair prepared by Muswellbrook High School, Muswellbrook, that really impressed the judges when the feathers were off, clearly taking out the award of best female pair in the carcase section.

Feedback from schools has been that this competition presents a great opportunity for students to get to learn a bit about the industry, and also to gain an appreciation of how much thought, preparation, care and attention to detail in many areas (such as the right feed, the right environment, the right amount of ventilation, the right temperature, the right litter and optimal management of it), is required to successfully grow out commercial meat chickens.

All schools should be congratulated on ‘having a go’; we hope to see you back next year.

Thanks must go to dedicated judges from Baiada (Jorge Ruiz and John Howard) who did an incredible job sorting out the winners. Also, to the RAS of NSW for its support for the competition, and Giglio’s Fresh Chicken for processing the birds.

A particularly big thanks to Steggles for its ongoing support and sponsorship of this major annual event, which just keeps growing in popularity and reach.

The Show may just come around once a year, but there is a range of educational materials for school children available year round from the ACMF. These include an educational DVD, which can be ordered from the ACMF’s website ( and an information book called “The Story of Chicken” which is available to schools on request at

Hatchery to Home

It’s Official: Chicken Remains Australia’s Favourite Meat

Earlier this month, ABARES (the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences) released its annual update on current and forecast future production and consumption of Australian agricultural products, including meats. Its statistics show that Australians are forecast to consume a whopping 46.2 kg of chicken meat, per person, over 2015-16, not only cementing chicken’s position as Australian consumers’ favourite meat, but also making us one of the largest consumers of chicken meat in the world!

Those of us who were around in the 1960s and 1970s may well be asking the question: How did this come about? How did chicken go from being an occasional treat, consumed only on special occasions or at best as the odd Sunday roast lunch, to today eating the equivalent of almost a full kilo of chicken meat each and every week? I’ll try to answer these questions here:

How much has chicken meat production and consumption grown over the past 40 – 50 years?

Back in 1966 (half a century ago) Australians consumed just 7kg of chicken meat each. As mentioned above, it’s expected that per capita consumption of chicken meat will reach 46.2kg in 2015-16. Over the same period, consumption of beef, and of lamb in particular, has declined.

Graph of consumption March 2016

Source of data: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Why the massive growth in consumption of chicken meat?

Well, obviously, because it’s such a great product! But how did Australians get to realise what a great product it is? Simple – because they could afford to eat more of it.

In real terms, chicken meat has become more and more affordable over time – there has been no increase in the real cost of chicken meat over the past 50 years. In fact, chicken has never been more affordable than it is at the moment.

And how has this been possible? The chicken industry has been able to deliver a more affordable product because of significant improvements it has made in the efficiency with which chicken meat is produced, and overall improvements in productivity. These gains have been passed on to consumers by way of reduced prices.

A lot of research has contributed to these advancements in efficiency and productivity (providing better feeding practices and bird nutrition, better housing and husbandry, improved flock health), but they also reflect advancements in the genetics of the birds that are used both here and around the world, and the fact that chickens are inherently more efficient at converting feed into meat than other livestock species. Modern meat chickens have been bred for a range of criteria, including for their feed conversion efficiency. This has meant that the most significant cost in producing a meat chicken i.e. feed, can be reduced, for the same amount of meat produced.

Alongside this increase in affordability, the range of products available has increased, almost exponentially. The nutritional benefits of chicken in the diet have also been better recognized (see my earlier blog on this at So it’s easy to see how chicken meat consumption has increased so much over the past 50 years and how chicken meat has become Australia’s favourite meat.

Can consumption grow any higher?

This is a question that we get asked all the time – is there really any room for further growth in chicken consumption? The answer is a resounding “yes”.

With more people now understanding that many of the myths perpetuated over the years about chicken meat (such as that chickens are fed hormones, or that chickens are kept in cages – both completely untrue – see my previous blogs at and ) many previous barriers to consumption are actually being lifted, and consumers are feeling better and better about eating chicken. With the current price differentials between chicken meat and other meats in Australia, consumption of chicken meat is certain to climb even higher.

To check out the full ABARES report, and see what it says about the future for chicken meat production and consumption, go to

Can chicken help long term weight loss?

Put on a few extra kgs over the festive season? Well, you’re not alone there!

This week (15 -21 February) is Australia’s Healthy Weight Week ( – an initiative of the Dietitians Association of Australia, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s a great concept and I’d encourage you to get involved.

It’s also a timely prompt to think about how chicken can contribute to achieving your healthy weight goals – and most importantly, staying there.

According to Lauren McGuckin, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, “Higher protein diets can play a role in helping some people lose weight and maintain weight loss. Lean chicken can contribute significantly to a higher protein diet and healthy eating.”

This comment hints at an interesting proposition for some – that you may not actually need to ‘go on a diet’ to actively lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Well the concept isn’t as ‘far fetched’ as it might sound to some. In fact, results of research undertaken by the ACMF a couple of years back (ACMF Diet and Chicken Survey. Galaxy Research 2010) showed that seven out of ten adults had made a conscious effort to lose weight in the previous two years, but only 7% of those ‘dieters’ actually succeed in reaching their long-term weight loss goal. The main reasons identified for this were:

  1. 65% of dieters only cut down on high calorie food when attempting to lose weight.
  2. 55% of dieters simply eat less of the food they are already eating when attempting to lose weight.
  3. 50% of all dieters will fail because they say they love food too much.
  4. 43% of dieters will fail to lose weight in the long-term because of a lack of willpower.
  5. 33% of people fail to achieve their weight target because they think dieting is too boring or there is not enough variety in diet options.
  6. 30% of dieters will crumble because they always feel hungry.
  7. 16% of dieters said that they didn’t achieve their goal because counting calories is too hard.
  8. Women dieters in particular find it hard to stick to eating ‘diet foods’, especially if they are the only one doing so in the family group.
  9. Men in particular are susceptible to falling off the diet bandwagon because they feel hungry.

If any of these sound familiar, then perhaps you need to think afresh about the beneficial role chicken could play in your diet.

Lets see how chicken’s main attributes stack up…

  • Chicken meat has the equivalent protein content of beef, lamb and pork. One 100g serve of chicken breast provides more than 50% of the recommended dietary intake of protein*. Protein consumption is generally accepted to increase satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat and may facilitate a reduction in energy consumption. This helps to overcome the ‘feeling hungry’ reason for failure to achieve weight loss goals described at 6 and 9 above.
  • Lean chicken cuts are low in fat and, importantly, over 55% of the total fat content is unsaturated fat.*
  • Chicken is a valuable source of minerals and also contains essential vitamins and all essential amino acids.
  • Lean chicken remains by far the most affordable lean meat on the Australian market.
  • Lean chicken is extremely versatile and easy to cook with…there are plenty of ways to prepare and enjoy it, so lack of variety in the diet (see point 5 above) does not need to come into play.
  • Consumer surveys tell us that chicken is a food which is popular with the whole family, so it’s easy to include it in meals that the whole family will enjoy (so much for point 89 above).
  • Forget about ‘excuses’ 3, 4, 5 above – chicken tastes good too!

*ACMF Nutrition Report – Food Health and Nutrition: Where Does Chicken Fit? May 2008 (see )

So, can chicken help you to get back on track? Definitely!


Food Safety at Christmas

By Guest Blogger, Dr Kylie Hewson

Don’t forget the roast chicken for Christmas lunch – but also don’t forget food safety!

But what does ‘food safety’ actually mean? And how can we talk about it without getting bored and losing interest? It can be difficult to find a food safety message that will be effective and understood by everyone. Variables such as a person’s profession (do they work with food or not?), background (what sort of foods they like to prepare and eat?), understanding of foodborne illness (are they a doctor, or someone who has experienced foodborne illness previously?) and their understanding of bacteria (e.g. do they have a background in science or food technology?), will significantly impact on which food safety message will be most effective. But importantly, everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness!

Food safety is particularly important over the holiday season as people are much more likely to be catering for more people than usual in a single sitting and this is when things are more likely to go wrong.

A good place to start is with the Australian Food Safety Information Council’s (FSIC) ‘food safety at home’ quiz (, which will provide you with a starting point for how good (or not) your current food safety practices are at home. I scored 22.

There’s a lot of extra information in the answers to this quiz, which can be overwhelming and definitely hard to remember and put into practice when you are trying to follow a new recipe for a Christmas meal and pressed for time. Perhaps the best way to think about food safety is that it is a combination of a lot of small things that will prevent yourself (or anyone you’ve cooked for) from spending the holidays curled up on the bathroom floor (or worse)! That does not make for good memories of your carefully prepared Christmas meal.

So the simple, general, food safety theme I use when preparing a meal is CLEAN, COOK, TIME. Are the ingredients and utensils clean? Have I cooked it enough? How long has it been since it was cooked? Three little words are easier to remember than a whole page of information, which is important when we all have so many other things to remember at Christmas.

So, to chicken meat. When talking about any raw animal product it’s important to remember that it will not be sterile, even if it looks clean. Bacteria (most of which are harmless) will still be present on clean, raw chicken meat and the application of heat is really the only sure way to destroy bacteria. A previous Chook Chat blog ( extends the general food safety message above to include ‘CHILL’ (instead of TIME) and ‘SEPARATE’. It’s a good idea to take extra precautions when handling raw animal products, and especially when cooking for a crowd. Chicken meat should always be kept ‘CHILLed’ in the fridge or freezer as bacteria don’t like the cold and won’t grow below 4°C – the best way to defrost chicken meat is in the fridge, or better yet, use a microwave. ‘SEPARATE’ relates to ensuring the juices that are on and in raw chicken meat don’t splash or drip on to any foods or utensils as bacteria are plentiful in these types of juices (as well as separating utensils or equipment used on raw chicken from those used for preparing other foods – particularly foods eaten raw – unless of course the equipment can be thoroughly cleaned in hot water in between uses).

Remember that bacteria are present everywhere – on your hands, clothes, kitchen utensils, other ingredients on the bench and even in the air. Chicken meat that has been left out for more than 4 hours after cooking should be thrown out, in case any bacteria have ended up on the food after cooking, some of which could have been happily growing at room temperature since. If in doubt – throw it out!

Which brings me to leftovers – there are usually plenty this time of year. Leftover chicken should definitely be reheated to steaming before it is consumed. Or better yet, cook a whole other meal using the leftover chicken meat in a pie, a casserole or on a pizza! But whichever way you use your chicken leftovers, make sure they are prepared with clean utensils, are reheated thoroughly and haven’t been in the fridge too long (no more than 2 days).

Our regular blogger, Dr Vivien Kite, will be back with another blog in February.

In the meantime, when it comes to the roast chook remember ‘Clean, Chill, Cook Separate’ and enjoy a safe, healthy, foodborne illness free Christmas!

Food Safety

Food Safety

Meat chicken behaviour – how do farmers use it?

Last month, I talked a little bit about meat chicken behaviour – not just what chickens do, but why it’s important. I foreshadowed that in my next blog I’d explain how chicken farmers use chicken behaviour to read and respond to their birds’ needs.

So, what behaviours does a chicken farmer use, and how does he/she interpret them?

What does a farmer listen for?

Most chicken farmers will tell you that they know, even before entering a shed, if all is OK based on the noise that is coming from the flock. In the daytime, the flock should be making a steady ‘hum’ of normal everyday bird activity and social interactions and the vocalisations associated with these. Hard to express in words, but here goes: a flock of baby chicks should be a chorus of ‘chip chip’; older flocks more of a ‘bwark bwark’ that some of you might relate to! There should not be a chorus of raucous squawking, and if the sound emerging from the flock is too high pitched and loud, there could be something wrong. The general noise level in a shed will increase with anything that might disturb or stress the chickens, including should there be something not right with the feed or water.

Can you tell the difference?

Listen to this audio clip of a flock of young meat chickens who are comfortable and engaging in a normal spectrum of day to day chicken activities and are not distressed:

OK – now listen to this clip:

Can you hear a subtle difference?
This is the same group of chickens, but slightly heightened level of alarm (due to an unfamiliar person moving through the flock).

And this?:

Well, this chick woke up and found that his flock mates had moved away from him…and he didn’t much like it until he found his way back to them.

What does a farmer look for?

There are many visual cues that farmers use to assess the status and level of comfort of their flock, and to tell them if something isn’t quite right. These are a few of them:

  • Chickens shouldn’t be overly flighty or fearful – they should certainly move away from you and get out of the way when you move through them, but definitely not panic!
  • They should be alert, even at times of the day when most of them are resting on the floor of the shed; they definitely shouldn’t look listless or depressed.
  • They shouldn’t be panting heavily – that means they are too hot, and the farmer will need to take action to cool the shed down.
  • They should be eating and drinking normally; crowding around the drinkers or feeders could indicate a supply problem.
  • If they are too bunched together – particularly if they are bunched together in particular parts of the shed – they might be too cold, and shed ventilation may need to be altered.
  • How the chickens are distributed around the shed tells the farmer a great deal. If they are not using the whole shed floor area, it could also be telling the farmer that the shed is too hot, too cold or that there are areas where the litter on the floor is wet or uncomfortable – all possibilities that the farmer will need to investigate and address.
  • Depending on the time of day, they should generally be doing particular things; there will be times of day when the chickens would be expected to mostly be resting, and other times that the farmer would expect that their chickens should be engaged in a range of different activities – some resting, some standing, walking, scratching around, feeding and drinking, and interacting with each other.

A good chicken farmer is therefore more than just a ‘farmer’…he/she is a genuine ‘stockperson’ and an expert interpreter of chicken behaviour.

NEXT MONTH: As we approach Christmas, its time to remind ourselves of the key principles of food safety. Do we really understand what we should be doing (and why) when preparing our Christmas roast chicken? Our guest blogger, Dr Kylie Hewson, Assistant Executive Director at the ACMF, will help to answer these questions.