There are seven stages involved in getting chicken to the consumer:
- Breeder flock
- Pullet farm
- Breeder house
- Broiler farm
Each of these stages was once a separate enterprise, but today, much of the chicken industry is vertically integrated, resulting in greater efficiencies and higher product quality. Tyson Foods’ chicken operations are fully vertically integrated.
The broiler chicken production process begins with the grandparent breeder flocks. The breeder flocks are raised to maturity in grandparent growing and laying farms where fertile eggs are produced. Pullets hatch from the fertile eggs, and they are sent to breeder houses. The pullets produce fertile eggs, which are sent to hatcheries.
Shortly after the eggs hatch, the chicks are sent to broiler farms. There, contract farmers care for and raise the chicks according to company standards. When the broilers reach the desired processing weight, they are caught and taken to processing plants. The finished chicken products are sent to distribution centers then transported to customers who sell the chicken to consumers.
Vertically integrated poultry companies operate feed mills to produce scientifically formulated feeds. Corn and soybean meal are major production costs in the poultry industry, representing 47% of the cost of growing a chicken in 2008. In addition to diet, advances in selective breeding, improved production technologies and better management practices have enabled the industry to grow broilers faster and with less feed. In 1925, it took 16 weeks and almost 12 pounds of feed to grow a 2.5 pound chicken. Today a chicken more than twice that size can be grown in less than half the time with only 11 pounds of feed. Chicken is the most efficient of the meat proteins in feed conversion.
There are essentially three ways chicken products are marketed, ranging from raw commodity at the lowest end to fully-cooked, value-added products on the high end. Of the three major proteins, chicken has provided the most opportunities for adding value.