HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Over the last fifty years the growth in demand for chicken has exploded.
In the mid-1960's, Americans ate approximately 28 pounds of chicken each year. Today, that number is approximately 85 pounds.
In recent years, sales of free range birds has grown to approximately four-percent of all chicken sales.
"We were processing about 3,000 birds a day. Today, we're processing over 100,000 birds a day," said John Flood, Wayne Farms Vice-President for Further Processing.
So why the rise in chicken consumption? Most in the industry will say it's more than just a great value.
"It's a lean meat. It's a better for you product than you've got on some of the other options," said Flood.
At Wayne Farms, they're trying to satisfy the demand of 96-percent of Americans who eat commercially grown chicken everyday. They say putting the best chicken on your dinner plate starts at the farm.
"We have four houses and each house will have 22,400 birds," said Ray Vest, a poultry farmer contracted with Wayne Farms.
Keeping those birds free from disease requires sanitizing tires and wearing protective clothing before entering the farm and chicken houses. The temperature in the chicken houses is carefully monitored, the same grain is fed to all birds and antibiotics are used to keep the birds safe.
"It can be great when you look at the welfare of the chicken, it really helps the bird," explained Flood.
It's using the same growing formula, according to Flood, that provides for consistency in quality, safety and the taste of their product.
"When you're making a decision to buy my product, you are going to have the same experience next week and the week after," said Flood.
There will always be debate about which came first, the chicken or the egg. But taking a look at a commercial egg and a free range egg, it's difficult to tell a difference. So is there a difference between the two and is there a difference in the chickens that produce them?
In recent years, free range chickens have grown to about four-percent of the market.
"For the health of our family, for the health of us, and the health of the animal, we wanted to go a more natural route," said Laura Ritch, owner of Goose Pond Farms.
Goose Pond Farms in Hartselle raises free range chicken. The birds are allowed to go wherever they want and they aren't given any antibiotics.
"We try to raise animals naturally," said Ritch.
Grain is only a supplement to their diet.
"All plant life comes to seed and they work on that and they eat bugs," said Ritch.
Ritch says the birds on her farm get more exercise which produces a better quality meat.
"The meat is a lot whiter and it doesn't have a sort of a slimy feel to it," said Ritch.
Both Wayne Farms and Good Pond agree you are what you eat. The choice is a mixture of the best grain through research or all natural and how much you're willing to pay for it.
As far as the cost, you'll pay a little extra for that tender loving care of a free range bird. In the grocery store you'll find a commercial raised bird in the $1 per pound range. Goose Pond officials say their birds are in the $3 per pound range.