Mass Production

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The 20th century saw the general farm lose its poultry shed to the poultry farm or ranch, which has in turn been split up into separate hatcheries and meat and egg factories. Economies of scale dictate that production units be as large as possible—one caretaker can manage a flock of 100,000, and many ranches now have a million or more laying hens. Today’s typical layer is born in an incubator, eats a diet that originates largely in the laboratory, lives and lays on wire and under lights for about a year, and produces between 250 and 290 eggs. As Page Smith and Charles Daniel put it in their Chicken Book, the chicken is no longer “a lively creature but merely an element in an industrial process whose product [is] the egg.”