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 primary breeder flocks are owned by an international breeder company. These flocks produce highly efficient breeding lines (parent lines) that are sold to the integrated broiler companies. Chicks are hatched at the breeder's hatchery and then sold and delivered to the integrated companies' parent breeding farms.
Parent Stock Breeders
Once the chicks arrive at the integrated company's breeder growing farm, the birds are raised to 20 weeks of age under environmentally controlled conditions. Controlling the length of daylight is extremely important. Breeders do not receive more than 10 hours of light daily as they are growing so they are not prematurely stimulated to lay eggs. During the 20 weeks of the grow-out, each bird will eat 30-35 pounds of feed and will grow to 6-8 lbs. Once they reach 20 weeks of age, they are transported to the breeder farm.
The parent breeders are the birds that produce the fertile eggs that will become the broiler chickens that are harvested for meat. Breeders are raised in open floor houses with automatic watering, feeding, and egg collection systems. Males and females are allowed to mate naturally. Females begin producing eggs around 24 weeks of age and will lay efficiently for 40 weeks per cycle. An average broiler breeder female will lay 150-180 eggs in a year.
When the broiler breeder female reaches 24 weeks of age, she will be laying. It takes a female between 24 and 32 hours to produce a fertile egg. The eggs are automatically collected daily, transported to the hatchery, and stored at 55-65° F and 70% humidity until they are set in the incubator. The eggs are held here for about three to 10 days prior to being placed in an incubator. One fertile hatching egg is worth $.28 each and weighs around 65g.
Most Integrated companies own their own hatchery to produce the chicks. Incubators will hold thousands of eggs in a very controlled environment. They are then transferred into hatching baskets. On the 21st day the chicks hatch.
After the chicks hatch, they are removed from the hatchers and processed before being taken to the grow-out farm. Processing of broiler chickens include sexing (separating the males and females if the company raised the two sexes separately) and vaccination. They are then counted and placed in baskets for delivery to the farm within 12 hours of hatch. A broiler chick is worth about $.36 and weights around 44g.
The chicks are then placed in floor rearing houses where they are raised under environmentally controlled conditions. Ventilation of the broiler house is critical for controlling temperature and humidity in the grow-out house. Birds are grown to different sizes depending on the market they are meant to fill. On average a broiler consumes about 9 pounds of feed (current cost of about $1.50 or $.30/pound) and reaches 5 pounds (live weight) in 5 weeks.
When the birds reach the desired weight, a company catching crew will catch and load the birds onto trucks to be transported to the processing plant. The catching crew takes a great deal of care in carefully handling the birds to prevent bruises or injury.
At the processing plant, birds are humanely slaughtered as quickly as possible. After slaughter, the feathers, offal, head, legs, and other items are removed so that they have a whole dressed carcass ready for sale or to send onto further processing. The cost of processing a broiler is about $.18 per pound. The wholesale price for a whole broiler is about $.53 per pound.
Further Processed Products
This is where we make the product more convenient as well as add value to the product. In the meat industry, further processing means something is done to the whole carcass such as cut-up, deboning, and fabricating poultry meat into value-added products. The cut-up operation is often done at the processing plant. However, some companies ship the whole carcasses to the further processing plant for specialized cut-up. Cut-up is where machines cut the whole carcass into individual parts. Deboning is where the bones are removed from specific parts to produce items like breast filets or other boneless products.
Value added refers to fabricating the carcass into consumer-ready products that requires additional time or labor. These products usually involve seasoning, breading, sauces, and marinating, as well as special packaging to meet market demands for convenient products. The added value result in higher margins and profits while providing a large product choice for the consumer.