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As Little Feed as Possible

To see why antibiotics have become so important, we've come to a chicken house in the hills of Cornelia, Georgia. A vet named John Smith leads us through a flock of 17,000 chickens. The birds are so densely packed that it looks like Moses parting the sea.

Veterinarian John Smith says if chickens eat antibiotics almost every day, they gain weight with a little less feed. Click photo to enlarge

Photo: Daniel Zwerdling
"As you can see, they're not pets," he tells us, "but they're not, you know, overly frightened, obviously."

Smith works for a poultry company named Fieldale. They sell more than three million chickens every week in supermarkets on the East Coast. His company calculates its costs and profits based on something they call feed conversion. They know exactly how many ounces of feed they need to give every chicken so the chickens reach the perfect weight in precisely 46 days.

And Smith says if the chickens munch antibiotics almost every day like vitamins, they gain the same amount of weight in the same amount of time, but on a tiny bit less feed.

"We have a target market weight. These birds we want to weigh about 5.4 pounds when they go to market. Feed conversion is important, because we need to use as little feed as possible to get that 5.4-pound bird. And the cost of feed and the cost of all the other inputs is very important to us to remain competitive and to be a profitable company," he explains.

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