GeneticsBy Larry Barrett | Posted 2002-07-10 Print
Tyson has cut 17 days from the lifespans of its chickens in the past 40 years. The modern chicken farm has come a long way from its humble, low-tech roots.
To understand how manufacturers have sped up the time to market, you have to start with the egg. Improving the genetic potential of broilers was essential in transforming chicken farming from basically a subsistence-farming afterthought to a $28 billion-a-year industry.
Today's commercial chick is the product of hundreds of years of trial-and-error breeding. Improvements in molecular biology and genetic fingerprinting in the past 20 years have helped chicken breeders develop commercial chickens that grow exponentially faster, larger and with less chance of disease than their predecessors.
The Barred Plymouth Rock or New Hampshire breed of chicken that was the bird of choice 50 years ago has been replaced by, as just one example, an Arbor Acres Yield bird of today. The old birds would take 70 to 80 days from birth to reach a harvest weight of 2.75 pounds with a feed conversion ratio (pounds of feed to pounds of chicken meat) of 4-to-1. Today's birds typically reach between 4 to 5 pounds in weight in about 45 days with a feed conversion ratio of 2-to-1 or less.
Call it Moore's Law for the chicken set.
These dramatic improvements in yield are directly tied to the genetic potential of the modern chick, but these gains could not be realized without advances that technology systems have provided to the grow-out farms.
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