Evolution of the Chicken Meat Industry

There is a generation of consumers today that has always viewed chicken as the cheapest protein meat available for purchase when in fact, not so terribly long ago, it was one of the most expensive. Dale Hyatt is the Research Service Farm Manager for the Texas A&M Poultry Science Department.

“In the early 1900s we used what we called a dual purpose bird, Rhode island Red, Dominique, what have you, and they were utilized for meat and eggs both, and along about the mid-1940s, somewhere in there, we made the realization that we were going to have to diversify to get maximum efficiency out of one product versus another, very similar to beef versus dairy cattle.”

Hyatt says by the mid-1950s they had a meat line and an egg line that didn’t cross.

“One is strictly for eggs and efficiency in producing eggs and that’s basically a derivative of the White Leghorn Chicken. The meat side is a cross between the White Rock and the Dark Cornish for the breastiness, so we have two different lines that are independent on the industry.”

Hyatt says about that same time the industry became vertically integrated.

“Vertical integration is where one company, one major entity owns every aspect, almost every aspect of producing that product. And before that somebody had a hatchery, somebody had a feed mill, somebody had a processing plant. You can’t compete with these companies if you tried to raise cheap meat in your backyard, you can’t do it. They deal in volume. They own all of the aspects, and you pull all of that together and it just makes a very inexpensive product.”

Hyatt stresses that the creation of these vertically integrated companies did not signal the death of the family chicken farmer.

“Almost one hundred percent of the broiler industry, they grow all of their birds through contract family farms. These farms are paid bonuses for the better they do in feed conversion, less mortality, better livability, better weight at market age. These all come together to add bonuses to their paycheck and so the better job they do the more they make, and they can take pride in the product that they’re producing.”