Evolution of an Industry

Comparing the early poultry industry to today

Egg scale

Egg scale.

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Editor’s note: This comparison between early 20th century and modern poultry production is in addition to “A Museum Worth Crowing About,” Jerry Schleicher’s article on the National Poultry Museum, Bonner Springs, Kan.

1910: Remember egg money? Farm families sell excess eggs in town for grocery money.

Today: Several dozen commercial egg farms produce more than 90 billion eggs annually.


1910: If you could find them, each egg-laying hen produced about 100 eggs per year.

Today: Hens in commercial egg operations produce an average of more than 250 eggs annually (equal to average per capita egg consumption in the U.S.).


1910: The most popular varieties of chickens include Leghorns and Rock Islands.

Today: Most broiler chickens are hybrids developed for fast growth, while poultry fanciers raise dozens of exotic varieties for meat, eggs and show.


1910-40: Farm flocks peak, with most of America’s 6.36 million farm families raising flocks of chickens for meat, eggs and cash.

Today: Vertical integration rules, with nearly 99 percent of the 9 billion broilers produced in the U.S. grown under contract with 50 vertically integrated poultry companies.


1910: Free-range chickens before free-range was cool. Farm flocks are housed in small colony houses or open front poultry houses and often have the run of the farmyard.

Today: Climate-controlled broiler houses measuring 20,000 square feet or more provide a closed environment to reduce heat stress and disease, and improve feed conversion.


1910: The barnyard flock was relatively small, averaging 20 to 50 birds per farm.

Today: Commercial flocks are massive, with the average contract broiler grower producing at least 120,000 birds per year.


1910: When chicken was a treat. American homemakers served fried, baked or stewed chicken as a special Sunday or holiday meal.

Today: Can you say McNugget? The USDA says each American now consumes an average of 102 pounds of poultry per year.


1892: By rail. First long-distance railway express shipment of baby chicks from Stockton, N.J., to Chicago.

1917: By mail. U.S. Postal Service agrees to ship chicks and live poultry via parcel post, creating a huge new direct mail market in rural America.

Today: By Peterbilt. Nearly all broiler chickens are raised, slaughtered and pre-packaged on site, and shipped via refrigerated trucks to supermarkets.


1947: The National Turkey Federation presents U.S. President Harry S. Truman with a live turkey for Thanksgiving. White House chef prepares the turkey for the Trumans’ dinner.

Today: Every U.S. president since Truman has issued an official “pardon” to the Thanksgiving turkey. FC