Could Donald Trump Improve Chicken Farming Practices?

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, is exciting because it is based on an undeniable truth: everyone remembers good times from their past that they’d love to revisit. This campaign slogan has the same appeal that science fiction stories about time machines have. And even though the present has a lot of truly amazing things going for it, there are some things that have decidedly gotten worse in recent decades.  Let’s hop into a time machine with Mr. Trump right now and take a look back at how great things used to be. First stop: Chicken farms of days gone by.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "Mr. Washington feeding his chicken with green stuffs raised in his own garden." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1916.
Chickens in 1916. Is this what Trump is talking about? Note that they are outdoors, eating green vegetables, and have plenty of space. From the New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Donald Trump, what do you think about factory farming?  Is this among the things that used to make America great in your mind?  Would you agree that it is making America look money hungry and inhumane?

Maybe you aren’t terribly familiar with how chicken is raised in this country. I’d be happy to go over it with you.

5 factors in chicken farming that might actually have been better in the past 

When it comes to chicken farming, there are a lot of factors that make the past more appealing than the present. Here are five factors that I’d love to hear any presidential candidate talk about:

1. Amount of processing before consumer purchase

When you buy chicken, what form do you buy it in?  Is it a whole chicken, separate cuts (breasts, thighs, etc), or is it processed further, like in chicken patty form or maybe marinated wings?

There is a great deal of evidence that preparing meals at home is a great way to improve your diet.  You control the ingredients and won’t rely on the techniques food scientists use to make unhealthy food taste good.

Up until the early 1900s, chicken was usually only eaten by the family that raised it. They did everything from scratch including raising and processing.  There was very little purchasing of chickens, and when they were purchased they were always whole.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Highbridge, High Bridge Area [woman and girl with chickens]" The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
From The New York Public Library Digital Collections
From the 1920s to the early 1980s, a majority of chicken was purchased whole, and preparation was done at the home from scratch. A smaller but not insignificant percentage of chicken was sold as various cuts (breasts, thighs, etc.).

one of our free range broilers, spatchcocked
one of our free range broilers, spatchcocked

As of 2015, a majority of the chicken sold in the US has undergone processing beyond butchering, such as being processed and battered as frozen chicken nuggets. Only 11% of chicken sold in the US in 2015 was sold whole.

definitely not our chicken
definitely not our chicken

2. What the chickens eat

Present day, factory raised chickens eat almost 100% GMO corn and GMO soy diets. But these poor chickens never have access to fresh plants or bugs like chickens raised on small farms did in up to the early 1900s, and certainly don’t eat organic.

on of our free range broiler chickens
one of our free range broiler chickens

3. Taste and nutrition

Modern day chicken is less healthy and has less flavor because the animals do not eat diverse diets and are harvested at young ages.

Here’s something interesting: As a chicken grows and matures, it develops healthier fat with more of those good fatty acids.  And the flavor of the meat deepens with age.  Chickens that are commercially raised are harvested so soon that the fats are much less nutritious and the meat is bland.

When people say “it tastes like chicken” it reflects the truth that common factory-raised chicken doesn’t have much of a distinct flavor and thus can be applied to many foods that also don’t have much flavor. In reality, nothing tastes like a chicken raised like they were in the old days.

Grilled Heritage breed Chicken
One of our heritage breed chickens fresh from the grill, tastes like REAL chicken

4. Living conditions

Up until the early 1900s, chickens were primarily raised for eggs by families and small farms in the typical chicken coop with a spacious run or even allowed to free range.

In 2015, nearly 9 billion chickens were raised for meat in factory settings. You know, the crammed, stinky buildings you’ve seen video footage of and wanted to vomit. These make up 99% of chicken consumed in the US.

chicken in a cage or behind a fence

5. Breeding

Almost all chickens raised for meat at present have been intensely bred for more meat production in less time with less feed. More than double the meat in less than half the time, in fact.

The average market weight of a broiler chicken:

  • 1925: 2.5 lbs.
  • 2015: 6.2 lbs

The average time for a broiler chicken to reach market weight:

  • 1925: 112 days (16 weeks, almost 4 months)
  • 2015: 49 days (7 weeks, under 2 months)


Does Donald Trump Care About Farming?

Donald Trump hasn’t said much, if anything, about farming.  It’s not exactly a major issue in the debates, despite the fact that Americans are shoveling food into their bodies every day and don’t really know what is a GMO, what is local, how things are raised, etc.

I’d think this is very important stuff.

There are wild implications that Trump’s anti-immigrant stance would harm the commercial farming industry, since it would severely reduce the labor force for harvesting.  Hmm. That could help small farming maybe, in a strange sort of way… But at what cost?

There was also a retweet from Trump’s campaign that poked fun at Monsanto and GMO crops, though it was at the expense of Iowa voters.  This could imply Trump isn’t a fan of GMOs, but the campaign immediately deleted the retweet, so I don’t think this holds much water one way or the other.

But surely quality farming is part of what Donald Trump is talking about when he says he wants to make America great again, isn’t he? The guy loves the good old days and would never give up what makes America great.

He would never show a preference for efficient business practices that generate the most profit.



Source for all statistics in this post from The National Chicken Council.