How animals go from farm to fork in 24 hours

Oct 14, 2013

The world is eating more meat than ever before. But how much do we really know how the meat on our plate gets there?

Aside from the related issues of global food security, impact on the environment and cost, how much do we really know about the lives of the animals we eat on a daily basis?

Dr Darren Juniper, an animal scientist at the University of Reading, said the lifespan of many animals bred for meat was surprisingly short - as is the length of time it can take to get from the farmyard to the dining table.

"The meat industry is pretty swift when it comes to processing animals and getting them from the farm to the supermarket fridge," he said.

"Conventionally-reared chickens have relatively short lives, typically living for just six weeks between hatching and being slaughtered. From the abattoir they can be processed, butchered and packaged in the same day, and could be on the supermarket shelf the following day - meaning they can go from clucking to plucking and cooking within around 24 hours.

"Organically-reared chickens live longer, and usually live for up to 12 weeks before being slaughtered. While some consumers prefer their chickens to have lived for longer, and organic meat has a different composition of fat and muscle, it is a less efficient way of producing meat, requiring more feed for the same weight, and therefore costs significantly more. However, once a chicken is sent to the slaughterhouse, there is little difference between organic and conventional chicken in terms of how long it takes to get to the shops.

"Other animals bred for meat live much longer. Pigs tend to live for four to five months before being slaughtered, with the possibility that fresh pork products can hit the shelves quite soon afterwards. Cured meat, such as bacon, takes around two to three weeks to cure before being ready to eat."

Lamb and beef, however, needs to be hung after the animals are slaughtered to allow muscle to tenderise and become quality meat that people will want to eat, Dr Juniper said.

"Cattle reared specifically for premium beef cuts will live for between 18 months and two years before they are slaughtered, and may then be hung for up to three weeks," he said.

"However, cheaper cuts of beef may come from older animals, such as former dairy animals, potentially being four to five years old.

"Lambs are usually aged between five/six months and one year when they are sent to the abattoir, and the meat then hung for seven to 10 days before it is processed and sold to consumers. Again, older can be sold for , although sheep which are more than one year old cannot be described as lamb."

Explore further: Q&A on the science of growing hamburger in the lab

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dutch vegetarian butcher takes on the 'Frankenburger'

Sep 08, 2013

Never mind last month's revolutionary test-tube beef burger grown from meat stem cells. The Dutch are way ahead with a "vegetarian butcher" who transforms plants into "meat". Dubbed the "Frankenburger", the lab-grown beef ...

Taiwan seizes 820 kilograms of dolphin meat

Sep 19, 2013

Taiwan coastguards Thursday said they have arrested two people and seized 820 kilograms (1,800 pounds) of dolphin meat as the island steps up efforts to protect endangered animals.

Recommended for you

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

7 hours ago

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Math modeling handbook now available

9 hours ago

Math comes in handy for answering questions about a variety of topics, from calculating the cost-effectiveness of fuel sources and determining the best regions to build high-speed rail to predicting the spread ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

10 hours ago

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

Male-biased tweeting

12 hours ago

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Developing nations ride a motorcycle boom

13 hours ago

Asia's rapidly developing economies should prepare for a full-throttle increase in motorcycle numbers as average incomes increase, a new study from The Australian National University has found.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.