The True Cost of Antibiotics in Poultry: A Deep Dive into “Big Chicken”

At Willow Creek Ranch, we pride ourselves on our commitment to regenerative farming and providing our community with wholesome, pasture-raised products. Our philosophy is rooted in the belief that the food we consume plays a pivotal role in our overall health. It’s with this perspective that we delve into the revelations presented in Maryn McKenna’s “Big Chicken,” a book that uncovers the extensive history and consequences of antibiotic use in the poultry industry.

A Journey Back in Time

The transformation of the poultry industry is both fascinating and alarming. In the early 1900s, chickens were primarily raised for egg production, with meat being a secondary product. However, the introduction of synthetic vitamin supplements and antibiotics in the mid-20th century led to a seismic shift. Chickens grew faster and larger, and the industry boomed. From 154 million chickens sold for meat in 1909, the number skyrocketed to over 9 billion annually in recent years.

The Unintended Consequences of Antibiotics

While antibiotics revolutionized poultry farming, they also brought about unintended repercussions. McKenna’s book highlights a pivotal moment in 1948 when scientists at Lederle Laboratories discovered the growth-promoting effects of adding antibiotics to chicken feed. This practice, initially seen as a boon, led to the widespread and routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The result? The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” that pose a significant threat to human health.

A report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) further emphasizes the gravity of the situation. McKenna’s research revealed that by 2011, the amount of antibiotics sold for use in farm animals in the US was four times higher than that sold for human use. This staggering statistic underscores the rampant misuse of these vital drugs in agriculture.

The Human Health Impact

The consequences of antibiotic misuse in poultry aren’t limited to the birds. Humans consuming antibiotic-laden chicken can develop antibiotic-resistant infections. These infections range from foodborne outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella to urinary tract infections caused by drug-resistant E. coli strains identical to those found in poultry samples.

A Consumer-Driven Change

Interestingly, the shift towards more responsible antibiotic use in the poultry industry has been largely consumer-driven. Growing awareness and demand for antibiotic-free chicken have prompted major poultry producers and restaurant chains to commit to more responsible practices. This movement aligns with our ethos at Willow Creek Ranch, where we believe in raising animals in harmony with nature, without the need for artificial growth promoters.


“Big Chicken” serves as a stark reminder of the intricate relationship between our food choices, agricultural practices, and health. At Willow Creek Ranch, we remain steadfast in our commitment to regenerative farming, prioritizing the health of our animals, the land, and our community. We encourage everyone to make informed food choices and support farming practices that are sustainable and health-conscious.

Sources: National Geographic, Kirkus Reviews, NPR,, CIDRAP.