Poultry is big business in the United States. We are the world’s largest producer of poultry meat, and almost 18 percent of total production is exported to other countries. That other 82 percent of poultry meat, including chicken, turkey and duck, is consumed right here at home. In fact, U.S. per-capita consumption of chicken meat is the highest of all protein sources, ranking higher than beef or pork.
The Modern Poultry Industry
Today’s poultry meat industry is vertically integrated, which means each segment relies on the one before it to supply what it needs. Here’s how it works.
1. Primary breeders develop and reproduce strains of chickens that meet the genetic requirements of the company and then sell chicks to the breeders.
2. Breeder farms raise the breeder chicks to adult birds. Breeding hens and roosters are kept under tight biosecurity to produce fertile hatching eggs.
3. A hatchery is a specialized facility to hatch fertile eggs received from breeder farms, usually in about 21 days.
4. Growout farms raise newly hatched chicks to market weight, usually about six to seven weeks. As a contract grower, the farmer provides barns, water, bedding, electricity and management. The company provides the chicks, feed and any necessary pharmaceuticals.
5. Processing plants harvest the birds by humane standards and enable USDA inspections.
85 pounds: That’s how much chicken the average American eats in one year. Compare this to per capita chicken consumption in 1900, which was 1 pound per year, and even in 1965, 26 pounds per year.