Grow Faster Chickens!
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the chicken industry and their fertility problems caught my attention. Since I have my own chickens and we buy from a local farm in Utah, I have not given much thought about what drives the chicken industry. It turns out to be significant, it takes 750 million new Broiler chickens each month to supply the market. The term Broiler chicken simply means a chicken that is raised for meat. Most of these chickens are raised far outside of their natural habitats.
The WSJ article talks about how prices for chicken have increased by nearly 70% and part of this problem is due to fertility. Chicken production has fallen to its lowest level in decades. Reading through the article one gets the sense that the people in the poultry business only care about the bottom line. They do not care so much about the natural life cycle of a chicken or what ramifications exist by modifying their natural cycles. And it is true, there is a lot of money at stake. At current prices, a 1% decline in the percentage of eggs that hatch in incubators translates to about $121 million in lost sales for the poultry industry over the first five months of 2017 (according to the article).
The article describes the chicken industry’s malcontent at slow growing chickens. Modern factory broiler chickens can grow to 6.2 pounds in about seven weeks, growing to be twice as fast as the birds’ ancestors. This is quite amazing since a regular chicken takes about 12 to 20 weeks to reach this weight. Even longer depending on the breed and food supply. A chicken’s normal growth cycle is about 26 weeks. The breeding companies have mapped the chicken’s DNA to isolate the birds that gain weight rapidly, particularly profitable breast meat, while consuming the least possible amount of feed. And this is accomplished without hormones!
The experts say that these fast-growing breeder chickens are overeating and growing too top-heavy to effectively procreate in the first place. The breeding flock also might be growing older overall, reducing fertility. Elderly chickens’ libidos also tend to wane, breeders and academics say. These guys created breed the chickens to require less time to mature and they are perplexed as to why there might be a fertility problem? Today, one could make a parallel about human fertility.
Chickens from Tyson Foods are primarily fed corn, soybean meal, minerals, and vitamins. They lay eggs with thin shells and pale yolks. When their eggs are fertilized, there is a large percentage that do not hatch, as highlighted by the Wall Street Journal article. Factory chickens have thick skin, less muscle, pale fat, soft flesh, and much smaller bones than naturally raised chickens. The nutritional value of animal products, or anything we consume for that matter, depends on the nutritional value of the producing animals diet.
Chickens are omnivores in their natural state. They scratch the soil for worms, bugs, seeds, and they even eat animals like snakes, mice, and lizards. Somewhere in this we must believe that what we feed the chickens does matter. Our health is not dependent on what we eat, rather on what we eat, eats (Volek et al.) The nutrients that exist in chicken meat will vary depending on what they are being fed. When the chicken’s nutrition is poor, the nutritional value of their meat is poor. Pastured raised farm chickens get out and scratch for worms and eat green grasses and weeds. They lay eggs with hard shells and deep yellow yolks. Farm chickens look healthy, they have supple skin, bright colors, firm muscles and nearly twice the calcium as massed produced factory raised chickens.
This type of thinking extends to most animal and plant farming. Always moving towards maximum profit no matter, the human cost. The mentality seems crazy, but it is nearly impossible to change. The only thing that seems to make any change is how we spend our money. Fortunately, there does exist a counter-culture of heritage breeders whose objectives are to maintain a genetic diversity and make the focus on the quality of the animal via its health, environment and diet. These types are movements are growing, but remains a fraction of the size of the large commercial poultry industries. With the advent of the internet, people now have access to alternatives for their poultry and poultry products.
The main points here are that the chickens are manipulated to grow faster depending on the motivations of quarterly profit versus the quality of the product. It is a reality that business and money turn the world. Until we demand better, the American consumer will receive products that are geared toward maximizing profits with little regard to quality. Finally, there are some telling parallels about human fertility, are we overeating and becoming less fertile
Egg Riddle Puzzles the Chicken Business — Amid fewer successful hatches, industry broods about overeating birds and waning libidos in aging flocks
Wholesale prices for boneless breast meat have surged 68%, while consumer prices have climbed 3%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Labor Statistics. The companies that dominate the $60 billion U.S. chicken industry, including Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. rely on a tightly managed network of breeding farms and industrial-scale incubators. The parents of those chickens are supplied by breeding companies,…
The U.S. meat industry is striving to crack a conundrum: why fewer eggs are hatching chicks.
Over the first five months of the year, the percentage of eggs hatching broiler chickens, raised for their meat, fell to its lowest level in over a decade. That is a big problem for companies in an industry that requires 750 million new chickens each month to raise, slaughter and process into wings, breasts and drumsticks.
“This is pretty out of the ordinary,” said Will Sawyer, animal-protein analyst at Rabobank. As to the cause, he said, “I don’t think anybody has the for-sure answer.”
The chicken sector’s decades long effort to make chickens grow at rapid speeds has never helped fertility. But industry officials point to a confluence of factors behind this year’s decline. Some say new varieties of fast-growing breeder chickens are overeating and growing too top-heavy to effectively procreate in the first place. The breeding flock also might be growing older overall, reducing fertility. Elderly chickens’ libidos also tend to wane, breeders and academics say.
The situation affects both poultry companies and consumers. At current prices, a 1% decline in the percentage of eggs that hatch of those set in incubators translates to about $121 million in lost sales for the poultry industry over the first five months of 2017, according to analysts’ estimates.
For retailers, restaurants and consumers, fewer hatching eggs — together with rising meat exports and strong consumer demand — have contributed to higher prices. Wholesale prices for boneless breast meat have surged 68%, while consumer prices have climbed 3%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Grocery stores tend to operate on six- to 12-month supply contracts for poultry, suggesting that consumer prices could rise further.
The companies that dominate the $60 billion U.S. chicken industry, including Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. rely on a tightly managed network of breeding farms and industrial-scale incubators. They place about 180 million baby chicks each week onto farms to raise roughly nine billion birds annually.
The parents of those chickens are supplied by breeding companies, which have mapped the chicken’s DNA to help choose birds that gain weight rapidly, particularly profitable breast meat, while consuming the least possible amount of feed. Modern broiler chickenscan swell to 6.2 pounds in about seven weeks, growing to be twice as large as the birds’ ancestors.
“These birds can grow to become big ol’ couch potatoes,” said Phil Stayer, corporate veterinarian for Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, which raised and processed 500 million chickens in 2016.
Fertility challenges accompanying rapid growth might have contributed to an average 81.52% of eggs placed into incubators successfully hatching during the first five months of this year, the lowest such stretch since early 2007, according to Rabobank. It ranged nearly 1 percentage point below the average of the previous five years.
Aside from possible problems stemming from overeating and age, some industry officials pin part of the egg-hatching decline on new breeding chickens. For instance, Alabama-based Aviagen Inc. over the past two years has been introducing new birds that now make up nearly half the U.S. market in broiler-chicken breeding birds, according to industry estimates. Tyson, which maintains a breeding subsidiary, also has been introducing a new breeding rooster.
Figuring out how to manage any new breeder bird can be tricky. Underfeeding hens and roosters can leave them sluggish and reduce fertility. But gaining too much weight can make them lazy, with sore feet and legs, according to Dr. Keith Bramwell, a poultry specialist at the University of Arkansas.
“Unfortunately, if you let breeders grow to their potential, they will be horrible breeders,” said Mr. Bramwell, who works with poultry companies on their breeding flocks. “It’s a fine line.” Feed components, including calorie and protein levels, are being fine-tuned to keep the birds from growing too thin or fat to procreate at the levels poultry executives expect.
An Aviagen spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment. A Tyson spokesman said the company’s egg-hatching is in line with expectations for its breeds.
Breeding specialists also have been experimenting with male-to-female ratios. Typically there is one rooster for every 10 hens, but if a new male variety proves unusually assertive, fewer are needed.
Producers’ zest to capture robust profits has also meant keeping some breeder hens in production longer than usual, to help produce as many baby chicks as possible, industry officials said. As chickens age, a lower percentage of their eggs tend to hatch successfully.