I'm the Perdue chicken contract grower from this r/videos post on the front page last month. After 22 years raising chickens for one of the largest chicken companies in the US, I invited Compassion in World Farming to my farm to film what "natural" and "humanely raised" really means. Their director Leah Garces is here, too, under the username lgarces. As of now, I'm still a contracted chicken factory farmer. AMA!

Proof: http://imgur.com/kZTB4mZ

EDIT: It's 12:50 pm ET and I have to go pick up my kids now, but I'll try to be back around 3:30 to answer more questions. And, no ladies, I’m not single!

Comments: 1752 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

runnerdood484 karma

Thank you for speaking out and allowing people to film what's really happening on chicken farms in the U.S. Because of the staggering number of chickens raised for food in the U.S., it seems to me that one of the best things people can do is simply eat less chickens (as well as push for better conditions). What are your thoughts?

Craig_Watts557 karma

That’s the catch 22. If people eat less chicken then my peers will suffer. I think that the best thing is to push for changes. One the changes is that farmers need to get paid more. Farmers are treading water. People are losing money. It’s important to bring the decisions back to the farm. We can do it better. We can do it more efficient. Get it out of the boardroom 1000 miles away where the people there have no affection for farming.

We can give the consumer want they want. The company’s give them what they give them, and try to TELL them that is what they want.

You see a lot of different of labels, but at the end of the day it is usually the same product.

Dan00712163 karma

If farmers get paid more, doesn't that make chicken more expensive, and therefore less people eating it because of price?

Source: basic economic principles.

Craig_Watts328 karma

No, where we are at is we’re just making enough to try to get by. The company has never invested in the farmer. I’ll put it this way, if a pound of chicken was $1.96, would you buy it again if it was $2/lb?

I get paid 5 cents a pound! All I’m asking for is a few cents more a pound. That one cent is tremendous for a farmer. Those couple of pennies will help them survive and help them get ahead.

pkennedy76 karma

What exactly does that 5cents cover? Just your wages? I assume it can't cover the cost of feed and the animals themselves.

Could you sell your chickens for $2/lbs yourself? Or do you need the scale of Purdue to get those prices that low? Seems like a lot of people would buy those, even if they were organic. I personally don't need organic, but a step up would be nice.

Craig_Watts185 karma

Perdue owns the birds. They own the feed. That 5 cents covers everything else. Every operational expense. We raise the chickens without ever owning one.

Since I don’t own the chickens, I of course can’t sell them.

Warlizard363 karma

What is your response to people who say, "They're just chickens. What does it matter how they're raised when we're just going to eat them anyway?"

Craig_Watts690 karma

Well, it does matter. If you’ve been paying attention to the news. There’s a lot of issues with food born illness with poultry. These chickens come loaded with salmonella, e coli and staff. Even if you don’t care about welfare, they’re getting sick because of the ways they’re raised. And that everyone should care about.

Warlizard379 karma


The other answer I've heard is that when we lack empathy for animals, it tends to bleed over into lack of empathy for people, and I'm pretty sure we can all agree that's not an optimal way of living.

Craig_Watts460 karma

You hit it. You said it best. Are you Calvin Coolidge? How you treat your animals reveals your true character.

ColdplayParadise209 karma

Do you going to continue stand up against large chicken companies?

Craig_Watts465 karma

With every breath in my body. Losing is not an option here. It’s just not.

Skatinbrad76 karma

Have the lawsuits/threats become pretty severe?

Craig_Watts214 karma

No. I’ve heard nothing about lawsuits. They haven’t threatened me either. Just more scrutiny. They’re scrutinizing things that they’ve been ok with for 22 years.

Kneeyul182 karma

What's your response to one of the top comments in the thread you linked?

Craig_Watts469 karma

That's a long one, I'll try to respond to the different sections:

The claim in this video that floor litter is not changed in most farms for months or years seems extreme.

The reality is that it’s not practical to change the litter out manually, for me or for any farmer. I use a composting system. I’ve been using it for 4 years and Perdue has approved it and been supporting this system.

It does not look this way in real life.

Perdue didn’t even try to say this was faked!

there is going to be a natural mortality rate with any sort of animal like this. Again, with this farm being an extreme example, I highly doubt the living conditions contribute to this much on the average farm.

We’re talking about chicks that are coming in from the hatchery injured. They are mechanically injured from the hatchery. Plus, I’m allergic to shovels! They make me break out in hives.

The companies also send their own representatives to make sure you're adhering to health codes.

I’ve never been written up for violating any health codes.

this video is biased to show the worst of the worst.

I had nothing to gain from this. In fact I had a lot to lose.

Kanuck_Kyle171 karma

Is it scary to stand up to people with so much power?

Craig_Watts710 karma

No, I’m scared of God almighty and my daddy. That’s it.

31lo78 karma

God bless you, sir. Are organic chickens treated better?

Craig_Watts53 karma

Leah can you field this one?

macaroniparmhavarti122 karma

What has been the backlash from Perdue or the chicken farming community?

Craig_Watts253 karma

I’m not aware of anything in the chicken farming community, because I went out alone to be the only one to fall on the sword. For me personally, I’ve been under a lot scrutiny. I’ve received 6 visits from Perdue in about 10 days. And they were from management. Normally they work as ‘out of sight out of mind’.

ksetterest80 karma

What happened during the visits? What was their aim?

Craig_Watts186 karma

I don’t know what happened. I was not asked to walk through the houses with them. They came, dropped off the report, which was a typical service report, and left. You would think if there were issues, they would want me down there with them to go through it with them. I call it the BOC report. Bunch Of Crap.

isospora114 karma

If chickens were raised humanely and the farmers treated fairly, do you think the average American could afford chicken at the rate it's currently consumed? I would think the price would go up exponentially. Edit: I think what you did is awesome.

Craig_Watts222 karma

What you don’t see is the external cost. The taxpayers money goes into farming this way. You pay for, even if you don’t see it in the supermarket.

Purpleclone47 karma

Do you mean through subsidies to big companies like Purdue?

Craig_Watts82 karma

I’m saying that big ag is the direct beneficiary to the government subsidies.

Sparkykc12492 karma

Presumably you are no longer raising chickens for Perdue, what are your plans now?

Craig_Watts252 karma

The fact is I’m still under contract with Perdue. We are looking to transition out, certainly. This is like a watershed moment. If I walk away now, I have no credibility with the farming community. I’m not wired to quit. If I quit, I fail.

PumpkinMomma128 karma

Ever considered converting to a sanctuary?

Craig_Watts222 karma

Well, I’ve never considered that. But now you’ve put that thought in the back of my mind. Thank you.

animalwelfairy87 karma

What do you perceive to be the biggest factor contributing to poor welfare in commercial chicken farming? What do you think can (and should) be done to improve standards?

Craig_Watts225 karma

That they’re genetically bred to the point that they struggle to stand on their own two legs. Their organs can’t keep up with that body weight.

Public pressure is going to change it. Farmers and government aren’t going to be able to make the changes. The only way is for the public to make apply the pressure.

Agricola8676 karma

How long do the usual contracts last with the big producers? I was under the impression they were relatively short, making it hard to get ahead financially.

Also, thank you so much for doing this and speaking out against something you recognized as not okay despite your own personal risk.

Craig_Watts84 karma

Absolutely. They are about 8 weeks. They call it flock to flock. With every flock, there is a new contract. There is a clause in the contract that it can be terminated at any point.

Agricola8637 karma

That's rough how do banks finance farmers under such short contracts? High rates?

Craig_Watts65 karma

No, actually very good rates. There's two things. Either you have a direct loan or an FSA government guaranteed loan for the folks who can’t get a direct loan. Those are riskier. And it’s another external cost to the the taxpayer. Despite the fact that there are houses sitting empty because farmers went bankrupt, they build new one with FSA loans. So basically, it’s not hard to the money. It’s the asinine process.

PumpkinMomma74 karma

You have had a front row view of the awful things that are being hidden from the American public. Have you ever considered becoming an animal advocate or a vegan? The truth surely can't hurt anyone...

Craig_Watts142 karma

I think I’ve already become an animal advocate. I respect those who are vegan, but that’s not for me. It’s not in my immediate future.

PropogandaBanana63 karma

What are some food companies that sell chicken you would recommend and not recommend?

Craig_Watts155 karma

Well, with Tyson, Perdue and Pilgrim’s, you're looking at a carbon copy of each other.

PumpkinMomma60 karma

Can you share some characteristics of chickens that most people don't know about them?

Most people view them as dumb machines, but I have some and I know differently. I think it would be powerful coming from you though.

Craig_Watts114 karma

For one, they are very inquisitive. In the right environment, they flourish. They’re very intelligent. My God, you can make pets out of them. And when they’re in the right environment, they can actually stand up and walk. They can be chickens. You’ve gotta get the genetics right. That’s the main thing. That’s the biggest problem health wise.

Agricola8620 karma

That's really interesting have you ever had any of these genetically modified birds live a while past their typical slaughter date? If so how were they?

Craig_Watts22 karma

I don’t own the chickens, so I haven’t been able to keep any. The only way would be if one jumped out of truck!

Kanoxia48 karma

What would you like to see change in the poultry industry, and how can we as consumers help affect those changes?

Craig_Watts88 karma

That kinda goes back to bringing control back to the farm. The consumers has built these business and will continue to build these businesses. But the companies have to be transparent instead of hoodwinking the consumer.

It would be a lot more honest if they packed 30,000 chickens in a house full of shit. That is transparent.

Burger_King_PR_Team39 karma


Craig_Watts26 karma

I'm going to let Leah, Director of Compassion in World Farming, answer this one. Her username is Lgarces.

smellthatsmell32 karma

What would you say to critics of your work who have said your farm is NOT the status quo? I have worked on the poultry industry working in quality control and I have to say, your barns looked like the bottom 5% in terms of cleanliness and sanitation. Do you see this issue more as more endemic to the broiler populations of the SE United States as opposed to layers? What did YOU try to do to improve conditions for the poultry (besides the video with a very obvious bias and little comparison to your peers)?

Craig_Watts55 karma

To that, I say check my record. Check how I performed in the tournament system. I’d be glad to post it. Or call Perdue and ask them. For the flock filmed in the video, I was THE top producer. Obviously they didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing.

I’ve never been on any disciplinary program in 22 years. This was my first welfare audit in 22 years.

It’s basic animal husbandry. I make sure that the chickens have food, water, the rooms are temperature controlled and the ammonia levels are controlled. All I can control is the environment.

PaperbackBuddha24 karma

Do you think there is a sizeable proportion of other growers who wish they could speak out? Perhaps even some who are reading of your actions and looking for a way to speak with each other in confidence?

Craig_Watts48 karma

I would say 80% would want to speak out. That’s conservative. I don’t know one farmer who is happy. And I know a lot. If there is one, I would love to talk them. I could use a little good news.

knit_me24 karma

I don't understand all the ins and outs of contract farming, but since the farm is yours (I am assuming) could you not have held yourself to a higher standard or was there something in you contract preventing this?

Craig_Watts27 karma

We are bound by that contract. We are contractually bound to farm this way. All I can control is the environment, the management and the culling. But the problems you saw in that video are because issues I can’t control.

The contract handcuffs me from making changes that would really matter.

bozobozo22 karma

Thanks for speaking up!

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Craig_Watts77 karma

Hey, that’s easy, T-Rex. Actually, a brontosaurus. They’re vegan!

ungrounded_outlet21 karma

How would you ideally like to raise chicken? Also, assuming farmers across America raised chickens humanely, would that affect the availability of chickens for the consumer?

Craig_Watts31 karma

I’m at a crossroads. I’m not sure that's something I see in my long term future. I may want to switch gears. There are just scars here. I’m not going to rule out pastured poultry. I may want to get into crop farming.

I don't see any reason why there would be. If that is the image, they shouldn't have issues with the availability.

bl0ke18 karma

How have you been affected psychologically by what you have seen?

Craig_Watts52 karma

The world just got lifted off my shoulders by speaking out. I call it freedom.

As far as the chickens go, absolutely. If you see you things and they don't bother, you don't have a pulse. We just do the best we can with the hand we’re dealt.

Craig_Watts13 karma

Just wanted to let you know I have to go pick up my kids, but I'll try to be back in a couple hours to get to the rest of your questions!

notsomuchreally12 karma


Craig_Watts13 karma

That sounds great. There are a few barriers though, like processing, that would allow me to become an organic farm.

WebtheWorldwide11 karma

In the 22 years you worked for Perdue, did you feel that the industry has changed?

If you noticed it, can you say the years (or the decade) in which these changes occured?

Craig_Watts19 karma

Absolutely. It’s more about image and not so much about the reality. And the birds grow much much faster.

Mk3supraholic10 karma

  1. Do you eat chicken often?
  2. Do you want to or already plan on changing or altering you career?

Craig_Watts20 karma

  1. Ah, no. But we do eat it. I just don’t pay twice as much for a BS label.
  2. I am working on that. If the past is any indication of where the business is headed, then there’s no future for me, because there was no past.

322610 karma

I've worked with a chicken charity taking spent laying hens out of factories to be rehomed to familes as pets. One of the biggest issues we face is maintaining relations with the farms so they continue to allow us access.

From the point of view of a farmer, what do you think the attitude of those in the industry is to groups like this?

Craig_Watts16 karma

The companies themselves are the ones that really discourage visitors. I’ve never had a problem opening my doors. I let Leah at Compassion in World Farming in.But that goes right back to the reason we did the video. It turns out we actually have a lot in common. We really want to reform the system.