In Big Bird, the fourth episode of Netflix’ Rotten docuseries, we get a look inside the world of commercial broiler chicken production.
Since the 1950s, the number of chicken farmers has dropped by 98 percent while the number of chickens has grown by 1,400 percent. It now stands at a whopping fifty-eight billion grown yearly worldwide.
The farmers don’t even call themselves farmers anymore, but growers. And their margins are so slim that many have difficulty making ends meet.
This is in spite of the fact that, according to Big Bird’s narrator, “Market watchers expect chicken to be the most eaten meat in the world by the end of 2020.”
To feed this growing demand, chicken companies have turned the raising of birds into a “virtual assembly line.” But they’ve also pitted their contract growers against each other with a system that gives a bonus to the grower who raises the heaviest birds on the least amount of feed.
The bonus is paid for with money from the grower with the least profitable bird-weight to feed ratio. It’s a system almost certain to create resentment among growers.
That resentment may have been responsible for what the film’s narrator describes as “serial mass chicken slaughter.” First-generation American chicken grower Sonny Nguyen tells about the morning a murderer invaded his farm:
“I may forget my birthday, but I never forget February 17, 2015.”
When Sonny entered his chicken house, dead birds were everywhere. Someone had broken in, turned the heaters on full blast and disconnected the ventilation system.
Between 1 and 2 a.m. on a mid-February morning, the temperature inside had climbed to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The birds literally suffocated.
As Sonny recalls:
“I opened the computer room door and the smoke and the steam just blowed into my face. And I fell down on the floor and I almost passed out. I cried like a baby.”
He continues in broken English:
“When you be with somebody long, you’re in love with that person. I love to raise chicken, and I don’t want them die. Not even one of them die. So when they die it just hurt.”
Sunny lost 40 thousand birds. But he wasn’t alone; over the next week, the attacker hit several nearby chicken houses and killed more than 320 thousand birds.
Like Sonny, no chicken farmers ever want any of their birds to die. And as someone committed to a vegan lifestyle, neither do I. Not on their farms — and definitely not in a slaughterhouse!
Yet somebody is responsible for slaughter of more than 1 billion chickens every week! And no, it isn’t vengeful serial chicken killers.
It’s consumers. The same consumers, who like Sonny, say they are deeply disturbed by the idea of animal slaughter. But once the chickens, cows or pigs are herded into trucks and carried off to their doom, killing them somehow becomes acceptable.
Obviously, only a huge disconnect can allow anyone to claim to love animals while turning a blind eye to the horrific realities of slaughterhouses.
So I’ll make it simple: What I learned from watching Big Bird is that it’s time for all of us to stop eating chickens!