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The Chicken

Even though chickens were commonplace in America as early as the Jamestown settlement, chicken production was mainly part of small home farm operations. The females were kept for eggs and the males were used by the family for meat. Mrs. Wilmer Steele of Ocean View, Delaware was credited with starting the poultry industry in the United States in 1923 when she decided to start 500 chicks and sold them live when they reached 2 pounds. The next year she raised 1,000 birds. It was seen as such a profitable industry that over 50,000 birds were raised in that region of Delaware by 1925. The integration seen in the industry today became popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the modern egg industry, most laying hens are hybrid White Leghorns (white egg producers) or sex-linked hybrids that resemble New Hampshire Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks (brown egg producers). Sex-linking is where a plumage trait, like slow feathering or a certain color pattern, is linked to the sex chromosome so that there is a distinct physical difference between the sexes of day-old chicks. This saves time and money separating the females for egg production. Today’s egg producing hens can produce over 300 eggs per year; this is over twice the average of 150 eggs per year in 1947.

The modern broiler industry has developed a hybrid that is unlike any other breed. The initial breeds used in modern broiler hybrids were Cornish and Plymouth Rocks. Today’s broiler can achieve a 5-pound market weight in five weeks. Forty years ago, it took 10 weeks to achieve a 4-pound market weight. These advances are the result of scientific progress in genetic, nutritional, and environmental research.

The modern turkey industry has developed a hybrid white turkey that is larger and faster growing than purebred or wild turkeys. The modern hybrid turkeys are so large they can no longer naturally breed efficiently. All modern turkeys are artificial insemination. Artificial insemination allows selective breeding of the sexes so breeders can raise fewer males and achieve higher rates of hatchability.