January 7, 2015

33 Min Read

LAYING HENS: Prior to World War II, most egg production came from farm flocks of less than 400 hens. By the early 1960s, improved technology and the development of sophisticated mechanical equipment were responsible for a shift from small farm flocks to larger commercial operations.

Today, in the major egg producing states, flocks of 100,000 laying hens are not unusual and some flocks number more than 1 million. Each of the 235 million laying birds in the U.S. produces between 250-300 eggs a year. U.S. egg production during August 2008 was 6.49 billion table eggs, which is up from 6.44 billion table eggs produced during August of last year.

On average, we each consume 251 eggs per year.

Presently, there are approximately 63 egg-producing companies with 1 million-plus layers and 15 companies with greater than 5 million layers.

There are approximately 235 egg-producing companies with flocks of 75,000 hens or more. These companies represent about 95% of all the layers in the United States. In 1987, there were around 2,500 operations, according to the American Egg Board.

The top ten egg-producing states (ranked by number of layers represented in thousands) are:

Iowa -53,193
Ohio – 28,535
Indiana – 26,635
Pennsylvania - 25,002
Texas – 18,584
California – 17,960
Georgia – 17,711
North Carolina – 12,918
Michigan – 12,824
Arkansas – 12,596

The five largest egg producing states represent approximately 50% of all U.S. laying hens.

For the first five months of 2008, cumulative exports of processed egg products reached $34.7 million, an increase of 10.3% over the same period a year earlier, thanks to increased export prices. Table eggs export volume decreased 59.7% year on year to 15.5 million dozen, with a value of 14.4 million, down 52.6%.

Exports of processed egg products to Japan, the single largest market, jumped to $15.1 million, an increased of 49.1%. Japan accounted for 43.5% of the total value of exports in the first five months of 2008. Exports to Germany reached $3.3 million, up 13.8% year on year. Exports toMexico were down by 41.2% year on year to $2.9 million. Sales to Canada, another important market decreased 27.4% to $2.1 million.

Table egg exports to Hong Kong, the top market for U.S. table eggs for years, were 4.6 million dozen, a decrease of 59.2 percent year on year. Helping boost the bottom line, however, was Canada. Shipments to Canada totaled 7.3 million dozen, up 136.2 percent from the same period of last year, according to the USAPEEC.

About two-thirds of all eggs are sold in the shell and one third of them are broken - not by accident, but on purpose. After the eggs are broken out of their shells, they can be made into liquid, frozen, dried and specialty egg products.

It takes 24 to 26 hours for a hen to produce an egg; there is 30 minutes between each egg-producing cycle.

Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D.

Source: American Egg Board


TURKEY: The U.S. turkey industry has experienced unprecedented growth in 2007. Today's consumer recognizes turkey's nutritional value and good taste and enjoys turkey year-round, not just during the holidays. In 2008, U.S. consumption of turkey is expected to be nearly 18 pounds per person, the number four protein choice for U.S. consumers. Turkey production has increased nearly 300 percent since 1970 - the total value of turkey processors' production in 2007 reached $14 billion and U.S. growers raised 271.7 million turkeys.

Turkey companies are vertically integrated, meaning they control or contract for all phases of production and processing - from breeding through delivery to retail. By maintaining control over research, hatching, growing, feeding, processing, packaging, transportation and marketing, the industry is able to produce wholesome, safe, high-quality products at the lowest possible cost to the consumer.

Top 10 Turkey Producing States in 2013 (in thousand head)


  • Minnesota - 45,000

  • North Carolina - 35,000

  • Arkansas - 29,000

  • Missouri - 17,000

  • Indiana - 17,000

  • Virginia - 16,000

  • California - 13,000

  • South Carolina - 11,500

  • Pennsylvania - 6,500

  • Ohio - 5,000

The turkey industry employs between 20,000 and 25,000 people in the United States. Tens of thousands more are employed in related industries, such as contract growing, product distribution, equipment manufacturing and a wide variety of other affiliated services.

The product distribution for turkey for 2007 follows: 42.6 percent sold to grocery stores and other retail outlets and 17.7 percent sold to foodservice outlets. The rest were sold as a commodity or exported.

The most popular turkey product continues to be the whole turkey, comprising nearly a quarter of all sales. However, many turkey products are tailor-made for today's consumers who live fast-paced lifestyles and who demand products that taste great, are healthful and easy to prepare. As a result, several other turkey products are closing in on the whole bird's dominance in the marketplace. Ground turkey has experienced the largest sales growth among consumers in the last decade. The top three turkey products sold in 2007 were whole birds, cooked white meat and ground turkey. Breast cuts, such as tenderloins and cutlets, also are seeing an increase in sales. In 2007, the average retail price for whole frozen turkeys in the United States was $1.15 per pound. The average person in the United States ate 17.5 pounds of turkey.

In 2007, 547 million pounds were exported. Exports now comprise about 10 percent of total turkey production, compared with 1.2 percent in 1990. In 2007, the top four export markets for U.S. turkey meat were Mexico (308.7 million pounds), China (48.2 million pounds), Russia (30.7 million pounds) and Canada (23.4 million pounds).

Source: National Turkey Federation


Chicken meat: The chicken industry in the United States is one of the most successful sectors in agriculture. In a little over 50 years, the U.S. broiler industry has evolved from fragmented, locally oriented businesses into a highly efficient, vertically integrated, progressive success story increasingly supplying customers nationwide and around the globe. The modern chicken industry produces nutritious, wholesome, high quality products that became more affordable year after year. Much of the success of the industry can be attributed to a more efficient structural organization, improved production and processing technologies, and a continuing responsiveness to consumer demands. Outlined here are the important milestones that helped make the chicken industry the success it is today.

1800s – early-1900s -Early poultry production consisted of many households having backyard flocks of dual-purpose chickens. These chickens supplied eggs and an occasional chicken for Sunday or holiday dinner. By the turn of the century, a few entrepreneurs began selling young chickens during the summer for meat as a sideline activity on their family farms. Year-round production was limited because vitamin D had not yet been discovered and the importance of the photoperiod (cycle of sunlight and darkness) and its impact on production was not understood.

1920s-1930s - Chicken meat production, previously a subsidiary of the egg industry, began with the development of the broiler - a chicken raised specifically for its meat. Broiler production was initiated in locations such as the Delmarva Peninsula, Georgia, Arkansas, and New England. Factors in the geographic expansion of the industry were favorable weather conditions, adequate land and water, and access to supplies of corn and soybeans, which are the major components of poultry feed.

Mrs. Wilmer Steele of Sussex County, Delaware, is often cited as the pioneer of the commercial broiler industry. In 1923, she raised a flock of 500 chicks intended to be sold for meat. Her little business was so profitable that, by 1926, Mrs. Steele was able to build a broiler house with a capacity of 10,000 birds.

1940s - Feed mills, hatcheries, farms, and processors were all separate entities in the early industry. The hatcheries were called upon by their customers to become more involved in coordinating the production, processing, and marketing of broilers with their own operations. To a certain extent, hatcheries played this role in order to their protect market share and production. Later, feed mills extended credit to farmers to purchase feed to produce the live chickens. The feed mills would lend farmers the money needed to buy the chicks from the hatcheries, with the debt being secured by a note on the flock. When the flock was market-ready, the farmer sold it to a processor and paid back the feed mill. Eventually entrepreneurs consolidated feed mill, hatchery and processing operations, resulting in the beginnings of the integrated industry.

Chickens were typically sold "New York dressed," with only the blood and feathers removed. In 1942, an Illinois plant was the first to win government approval of "on-line" evisceration. Evisceration and packing ready-to-cook whole carcasses in ice in wooden crates would eventually become the norm.

By 1949, USDA launched a voluntary program of grading to assure consumers of high quality.

1950s-1960s -The commercial broiler industry began its economic boom. By 1952, specially bred meat chickens ("broilers") surpassed farm chickens as the number one source of chicken meat in the United States.

"Vertical integration" took hold, with a single company involved in every stage of production, processing and marketing. Entrepreneurs started to combine and coordinate different broiler production stages in the 1940s. By the mid-1960s, ninety percent of broilers produced came from integrated operations. Vertical integration would allow the broiler industry to take advantage of new pharmaceutical, biological and production technologies to become more efficient, responsive, and profitable.

Federal inspection of broilers became mandatory in 1959. Since 1926, many processing plants had voluntarily participated in a USDA inspection program for wholesomeness.

Since 1970s - By the mid-1970s, the industry had evolved into its modern state with the implementation of nutritional discoveries, disease eradication programs, genetic improvements through traditional breeding, and mechanization and automation technologies.

By the early 1980s, consumers preferred cut-up and further-processed chickens to the traditional whole bird.

Chicken consumption surpassed beef consumption in the United States in 1992. Chicken had already surpassed pork consumption in 1985.

In 1991, the U.S. government helped sponsor the first shipments of frozen poultry leg quarters to the Soviet Union. By 2001, chicken exports to Russia and other foreign markets accounted for approximately 20 percent of total American production, worth more than $2 billion.

On January 26, 1998, USDA required the HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) process control system program in all large poultry slaughter establishments. This program is a modern approach to quality control that seeks to identify and control the points in processing at which chemical, physical and microbiological hazards can be controlled, reduced, or eliminated. Pathogen reduction is a key component of USDA’s initiatives.

Driven by industry advancements, the broiler produced today is meatier, more affordable to the consumer, and more wholesome than the broiler of fifty years ago -- or even 15 years ago. The industry employs the most advanced scientific technology available and is constantly seeking new methods to ensure wholesomeness and enhance quality for the consumer.

Size of Workforce - The size of the chicken industry workforce has remained relatively stable over the years, with about 300,000 people employed in chicken processing plants nationwide and another 60,000 in feed mills, hatcheries, distribution centers, corporate headquarters and other locations. Employment has not grown as fast as the increase in production (60 percent during the 1990s) because increased automation has allowed companies to produce more chicken products per worker.

Broiler production - 1925 to present


Market Age

average days

Market Weight

pounds, liveweight

Feed to Meat Gain

Pounds of feed to one pound of broiler, liveweight
























































































Source: National Chicken Council

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