We have an ongoing dispute around here about how to raise our broilers. One side promotes electro-net (see post below on laying hens for a picture of electro-net in foreground). This solution offers ample space for the chickens to move around, a large natural environment, and is fairly aesthetic. The netting is moved once / week but the feeders inside the net are moved daily. The other side promotes 10' x 10' chicken tractors. The chickens are more crowded, but the pens are moved twice per day, which means they almost all always have 'fresh' pasture and the manure is more evenly deposited across the pasture.
Which ideal do we feel is most important. Aesthetics? Enjoyment factor for the person doing the work? Our pastures? Chicken health? Economics for us is a necessary component, but happens after we have our ideals in line.
Economics got me to thinking too, about some recent chickens we bought at Safeway. We were testing a new bagging system and wanted to experiment on some cheap chickens instead of our own broilers. I could not believe that the price was 64 cents/lb. How in the world does an operation pay for egg-hatching, housing, feeding, processing, bagging, marketing, and distributing a 64cent/lb chicken and still make a profit? This is certainly a wonder of modern-day economics. But is it a wonder of anything else?
Does the 64cent/lb chicken benefit from impassioned discussions among its owners or shareholders arguing for its well-being or environmental benefit? Does the 64cent/lb chicken bring wonder and enjoyment to the folks raising the chicken, processing it, or eating it? Pondering these questions helps me put our own dispute into perspective. For us, its not about the right answer, but about the process and the ideals behind what we do. The end result is far from a 64cent/lb chicken but certainly tastes better.