Recently I had the opportunity to tour the Perdue Farms chicken facilities in Salisbury, Maryland. They promised to open the kimono and show us any part of the chicken raising and processing chain, from hatchling to table. Without going into great detail, I wasn’t sure what to expect regarding the truth about Perdue Chicken. Like many of us, I didn’t understand the process taken by companies like Perdue in supplying quality food to American dinner tables. After this few days spent with the Perdue team as part of their new brand ambassador program, I walked away pretty darn impressed.

I feel 100% honest in telling you the truth about Perdue Chicken is positive, regardless of being paid as a brand ambassador. And I am being paid, so let’s put that right out there. Nonetheless, I learned about how Perdue humanely raises poultry in a healthy way for both the chickens and the people that eat them.

I’m no expert, but I did witness some interesting things I want to share with you.

A Perdue team member toured us through the egg hatchery, where 1.2 million chicks are hatched each week!

The Truth About Perdue Chicken

Truth #1: A Family That Truly Cares

In order to fully understand raising chickens from start to finish, we had to begin at the beginning. A visit to the original Perdue Family Farmhouse was instrumental in gaining understanding of the commitment this family has had to raising chickens. Inside the homestead, there are historical artifacts and records going all the way back to 1920 when Arthur Perdue started raising chickens in the backyard for their eggs. It was cool to see real people behind such a giant company. In fact, we were fortunate to meet the second, third and fourth generation Perdues who are still running this family business today.

Original Perdue Family Homestead in Salisbury, Maryland

The Perdue Family started their chicken business from this modest home in Salisbury, Maryland.

When I say a family that truly cares, I mean it. This is the most fundamental truth about Perdue Chicken: behind this enormous enterprise is a caring and dedicated family that still owns and runs it. The Perdues are regular, down to earth people that show up to garden parties in shorts and flip flops. A family that greets you on the porch of their family homestead with a beer in hand and a genuine smile. My corporate greed detector did not signal the alarms. This is an authentic family business. A big and successful one to be sure, but a good one.

Jim Perdue and Jon Bailey stand on porch of Perdue Family Home in Salisbury, Maryland

Standing with Perdue Farms CEO Jim Perdue on his grandfather’s porch where it all started.

Truth #2: Family Farmers are a Perdue Hallmark

Just like the Perdue Family has been doing this for nearly 100 years, the company only works with family farmers. Perdue does not own 98% of these chicken farms – they own the chickens themselves. Family farmers produce the eggs that are shipped to Perdue for hatching in their facilities. The chicks are distributed to family farms where they are raised. These farmers are typically mom-and-pop farmers raising those chickens until they are ready to be processed.

farmer explains about raising Perdue Farms organic chickens to visiting media

We visited an organic chicken farm, run by a family who raises chickens for Perdue.

These are real people – I met some of them. They are not mad scientists or money-hungry corporations robotically raising chickens like some factory. We visited the farms and saw the chickens in their barns. We talked with these families whose livelihood depends on successfully raising healthy chickens. These farms are inspected regularly by government officials as well as Perdue teams, making sure they can guarantee the facilities are clean and safe. In fact, Perdue policy requires farmers to go above and beyond the federal guidelines.

It was eye-opening for me to see the personal side of this story.

organic chicken farm with indoor/outdoor barn access

The chickens raised on this organic farm have full access to the outdoors every day.

Truth #3: Perdue is On the Cutting Edge of Animal Care

Several years ago, Perdue was called out by environmental groups for chicken farmers using some less-than-savory husbandry practices. It wasn’t pretty, and Perdue took serious heat. In response, the company did not try to hide from the situation. In fact, they worked together with several non-profit activist groups to form an annual Animal Care Summit.  Now in its fourth year, this national summit brings together those organizations for real conversations about how to do better. Perdue has been working with some of the top animal rights groups in the US to be at the top of humane practices.

One truth about Perdue Chicken is they are not 100% perfect. However, Perdue is now widely heralded as leading the charge within the entire US poultry industry. The company is lauded for its best practices in humane chicken farming. From egg to pullet to the chicken we buy from Perdue, the company can now tell you exactly how that chicken was raised humanely. In this process, Perdue has become the largest supplier of organic chicken in the entire US.

organic barns offer outdoors at Perdue Chicken

Chickens love to scratch in the grass and hunt bugs outdoors at this organic farm.

Truth #4: Hatcheries Are Not Dystopian Factories

Perdue produces A LOT of chicken. In order to do that, they hatch A LOT of chicks. In fact, they hatch about 1.2 million chicks a week at this facility. A WEEK!  Perdue sources these eggs from family farmers they have carefully vetted to ensure the laying hens are treated well.

Perdue Farms executive shows guests a fertile egg

A Perdue Farms executive shows visitors how to tell if an egg is fertile by shining a flashlight.

State of the art incubators help ensure a very high success rate. Eggs are kept at a perfect 98-degrees to simulate a hen’s body temperature. Special devices rotate and turn the eggs every hour, just like a mother hen moves her eggs around in the nest.

chicken eggs at Perdue Farms hatchery

Chicken eggs at the Perdue Farms hatchery await the day when baby chicks emerge.

Truth #5: Chickens Flock Together Naturally

When we view alarming photos of chickens crowded into small spaces with hardly room to move, it’s greatly upsetting without context. In fact, chickens are naturally flocking creatures that enjoy close quarters. I can attest to this – we raised chickens in our San Diego backyard for several years. They stuck close together regardless of having the free range of our backyard.

chicken pullets

Pullets like these grow to full size in well-maintained barns.

Touring the barns where these chickens are raised for Perdue, we noticed this flocking behavior immediately. The barn is enormous and there is plenty of room for the chickens to spread out and enjoy their own space. Instead, they are all crammed to one side or the other because that is their natural state. The truth is, chickens gain comfort from one another in close – often touching – proximity. Those scary photos of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions? Actually kind of manipulative in my view.

Chicken barn where pullets grow to full size for Perdue Chicken.

Truth #6: Perdue Chickens Lead a Good Life

There is a globally accepted standard for animal husbandry, and Perdue Chicken is a leader in the US. These Five Freedoms have been endorsed by the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). By going even above and beyond these guidelines, Perdue can ensure its chickens are treated well and lead a good life. There are no cages, no mills, no factories and no cruelty. I saw it all with my own eyes.

The Five Freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  2. Freedom from Discomfort
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress.

Chickens enjoy sticking together, and also having stimulation in their environment.

The Perdue folks go out of their way to provide a stress-free environment. Hides, shelters, ramps and other climbing structures are offered inside and outside, and the chickens enjoy interacting with this environment.

Truth #7: “No Antibiotics Ever” is the Mantra

Perdue is a leader in the industry, and one of the reasons is the company’s strict adherence to their No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) pledge. People do not want to consume things laden with antibiotics, which in turn can affect humans negatively. Perdue simply does not use them – ever.

Farmers keep the barns in which they are raised extremely clean, dry and free of contagions. Thus, Perdue can ensure the chickens their farmers are raising have not been artificially pumped full of chemicals. So for Perdue, No Antibiotics Ever is a reality.

newly hatched chicks at Perdue Farms hatchery

Brand new Perdue Chicken hatchlings are ready to travel to nearby farms.

Truth #8: Process of Continual Improvement

Perdue is not perfect, and they know it. The company folks I met fully admitted this, and also that they are dedicated to getting better and better. The Perdue family members I met personally looked me straight in the eye when they affirmed this promise. I believe them.

What impressed me most about this company was their earnest desire to do the right thing. Yes, they are successful and big and making lots of money. But here’s the thing – I would rather spend my money with companies that are trying to do the right thing.

And that’s MY truth about Perdue Chicken. It’s just that simple.

man in cowboy hat lays back in seat of John Deere tractor, Salisbury, Maryland

I got into the farmer role with this tractor on a Maryland farm. No wisecracks please.