This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the production of chickens for slaughter, including those grown under contract.
Broilers and Other Meat-Type Chicken Production
Although the number of poultry farms decreased by half over the last 50 years, output rose dramatically, from about 1.5 billion birds in 1959 to almost 8.0 billion at the turn of the twenty-first century. By 2002 poultry production had exceeded 38 billion pounds, reflecting a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year. Domestic poultry consumption grew 5.7 percent in 2002 to nearly 76 pounds.
The industry survived the late twentieth century recession reasonably unscathed. In the early 1990s, it had benefited from unprecedented consumer demand for poultry. In 1992 sales of chicken had outstripped those of red meat for the first time. By 2002, chicken accounted for a 41.7 percent share of the meat market.
Chicken was also being marketed more widely, particularly in fast food restaurants. Between 1970 and 1990, about 25,000 outlets introduced chicken in the form of sandwiches or nuggets, and these numbers continued to grow into the twenty-first century. There was also steady growth in the number of specialist fast food chicken chains, such as KFC and Church's Fried Chicken. The broiler, fryer, and roaster industry and the fast food industry have worked closely together to develop products especially for these markets.
In the early 2000s, 7 to 10 companies controlled about 50 to 60 percent of the chicken market. These were vertically integrated concerns—companies with control over every stage of poultry growth and production from egg production to broiler slaughter.
By the start of the twenty-first century, independent farmers under contract to large poultry companies grew 89 percent of the chickens, a 10 percent decrease from the mid-1990s. The remainder were farmed directly by the companies themselves. Under the contract system, the company provided the chicks, feed, medication, and transportation to market. The farmer furnished the housing, equipment, labor, and miscellaneous supplies, and agreed to raise the birds until slaughter. Farmers were generally paid according to how much feed was needed for the birds to achieve market weight. The less they needed, the cheaper the chickens were to produce and the more farmers earned.
Broiler production increased from 34 million in 1934 to approximately 6 billion in 1990. Output has increased in all but five of the last 50 years. Better breeding, feeding, and disease control—combined with more sophisticated housing—reduced broiler production time by two weeks between 1980 and 1990. In 1935, it took a farmer 16 weeks to produce a 2.9-pound broiler, with 4.5 pounds of feed needed per live weight. By 1988, a farmer could produce a four pounder in just six weeks, on less than two pounds of feed per live weight. This increase was realized by the use of intensive farming methods; new systems of temperature, feed, and water control; careful breeding; and the use of antibiotics to speed the birds' growth.
Increased national and international demand for chicken and chicken products fueled steady industry growth, about 5 percent per year since the early 1960s. In 1995, chicken producers raised about 7.33 billion birds with sales of over $11.4 billion. Total broiler production continued to increase, surpassing 1995's approximately 34 billion pound level of production. About 50 percent of chickens were sold directly to consumers, another 40 percent were sold to restaurants, and 10 percent went for export or pet food.
Despite a sustained drop in the price of chickens in 1994 and 1995, in 1996 wholesale prices for broilers climbed to about 60 cents per pound, while broiler parts held at roughly $1.92 per pound for boneless breasts and about 96 cents for breasts with ribs on. Retail prices ranged from 98 cents per pound for fresh whole broilers to about $2.05 for bone-in breasts.
In 1996, per capita consumption of chicken stood at 72.9 pounds. The...