Here in East Texas

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!


Here in East Texas, we are no strangers to the suffocating humidity, blazing mid-day temperatures, and the pungent, nose-crinkling smell of commercial broiler farms. Just as recognizable as the smell of honeysuckles, the aroma of poultry production can be a burden to nearby neighbors and quickly sour a pleasant mood. However, the broilers being raised on that farm will contribute to the nearly 100 billion pounds of chicken and chicken products that will be marketed in the United States in 2019. 

More than a century ago most of our nation’s inhabitants were farmers and most farmers owned chickens. Our country has changed in many ways since those early years. Today a very small minority are farmers, few of whom own chickens. Not surprisingly, the American chicken industry has undergone dramatic change as well. 

In the early days of the broiler business, the major production staging of producing broiler meat were all separate businesses. There were independent feed mills, hatcheries, farms and processors who each sold their product in a separate market. In the 1940s, the different stages of production were beginning to be combined by “integrators.” The integrators reduced costs by coordinating the production capacity of each stage of production. 

Thanks to modern agriculture and a surge in population, the barnyard variety of chicken is of the past. Chickens are now specifically bred for their ability to produce more meat. Some may argue that the chicken breast available at the store are entirely too large, but in terms of efficiency, the barnyard bird cannot compete. We live in a growing population which means more mouths to feed. Selecting broiler genetics and breeding with the intent to feed the world is of utmost importance. In 2019, it is projected by the National Chicken Council that nearly 12 billion broiler chickens, weighing 90 billion pounds, will be produced in the U.S. – 17 percent of which will be exported. 

The chicken industry has grown to the magnitude that it is today by combining production stages into large vertically integrated firms that are able to take advantage of rapidly changing technology and a growing need to produce more food. Vertically integrated companies in a supply chain are united through a common owner. Usually each member of the supply chain produces a different product or service, and the products combine to satisfy a common need – in this case, the production of broiler chicken. 

The efficiency of this system has helped foster lower real prices for chicken products. The broiler industry, in particular, is often cited as a model of the organization which may characterize U.S. agriculture in the future. Not to mention, the U.S. poultry industry employs both directly and indirectly nearly half a million Americans. 

Roughly 30,000 family farmers operate a vertically integrated commercial farm. This means that the company, like Tyson Foods, Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride, and Sanderson Farms, owns or largely controls each step of the production process. Today, more than 90 percent of all chickens raised for human consumption in the United States are produced by independent farmers 

working under contract with integrated chicken production and processing companies. Most of the other ten percent are company-owned farms and less than one percent are raised by individual growers. Vertically integrated commercial broiler farms are the heartbeat of the American poultry industry. Americans consume more chicken than anywhere else in the world – over 85 pounds per person each year. That’s a lot of chicken nuggets! 

What does vertical integration mean to you, the consumer? According to the National Chicken Council, here are the most notable consumer benefits of vertical integration: 

• Less man hours to produce more chicken. 

• A reduced growing period to produce a market broiler chicken, meaning reduced space, labor, equipment and a much smaller environmental impact. 

• Better health programs for the welfare of birds. 

• Enhanced food safety. 

Growing and producing food for a growing population is a hefty task for the American farmer. Countless hours of grueling manual labor, the heartache of uncertainty about feeding his own family, being financially indebted to grow at maximum capacity, and the pride in knowing his farm contributes to a greater good all weigh heavy on the shoulders and mind of a poultry farmer. Despite the occasional smell, a lot of good comes from commercial broiler farms. Next time you fire up the grill to bar-b-que some chicken or go through your favorite drive through and order a chicken meal, be mindful and thankful for the farmer who raised and produced that chicken. You never know, the chicken you purchase and consume just might be grown right down the road.