Learning the ins and outs of poultry farming

Pointers on how to breed chickens

Chickens are by far the most important of the food birds. Of every 1,000 fowls sold in the markets for meat,  about 940 are chickens, 40 are turkeys, 17 are ducks, and 3 are geese and other birds. The chicken egg is the only one of commercial importance. In the United States the average yearly consumption per person is about 42 pounds of chicken, 8 pounds of turkey, and 317 eggs.

Many chickens are raised on farms as a by-product of general farming. But, this has changed as more and more people doing business and earning substantial income through poultry farming. To obtain the greatest number of good chicks in proportion to the number of eggs set, artificial methods of hatching chicks are generally used. Today more than 90 percent of all chicks produced come from commercial hatcheries. On farms where 200 or more chicks are raised annually, artificial methods of hatching and brooding have almost entirely replaced natural methods.

The farmer buys day-old chicks from the hatchery and raises them in brooders of various types. Broodersare heated houses, often lighted with ultraviolet light, which takes the place of the hen in keeping the chicks warm. They include a cool room for exercising and feeding and roosts for the older birds. They may open onto a run, or feeding yard, but many professional poultrymen raise their birds entirely indoors.

At 10 to 12 weeks of age the chicks are well feathered and have learned to roost. The cockerels (young males) may then be sold as broilers or fryers or reared by themselves and sold as roosters later in the season. The pullets )females less than a year) are kept for egg laying.

About 450 million laying hens are kept on the farms of the United States. Every year the poor layers are culled (removed from the flock) and replaced with young pullets. Hens produced the most eggs during their first laying year. Most poultrymen keep a laying flock of at least 60 percent pullets. Many dispose of the entire flock every year and keep only pullets for egg production.

The Breeding Farm

The huge commercial broiler industry produces far more chickens than general farms. For both the starting point would seem to be the commercial hatchery. However, the breeding farm is a very important step before the eggs reach the hatchery. Poultry breeders permit only the best chickens to produce chicks. From each new crop of chicks the top few are selected for breeding. The third generation, called breeding stock, live on farms connected with commercial hatcheries. They are the birds that lay the ggs incubated in the hatcheries.

As a result of selective breeding the modern chicken is meatier, juicier, more tender, and more pleasing to the eye than the bird of only few years ago. Its skin is a light yellow. There few if any pin feathers. It matures faster, which means it costs less to raise and can be solf at a lower price than in the past. Broilers were once available for only a few weeks in the spring of the year. Now they can be purchased at any time. Meat hens lay more and better eggs, and all breeds lay throughout the year.

The Commercial Hatchery

Eggs produced by breeding stock are incubated in commercial hatcheries. Artificial incubation is not a new practice. The ancient Egyptians hatched eggs by putting them in brick ovens, which held an even heat.

The modern incubator imitates the natural conditions for hatching. A warm even temperature is provided, with a supply of fresh and slightly moist air. Since a setting hen carefully turns each egg over from time to time, the eggs in the incubator are also turned over frequently from the third to the eighth day.

At the end of one week the eggs are tested and the infertile eggs, those which are not going to hatch, are removed. The test is made by the process known as candling. The eggs are held before a light, and the infertile eggs appear clean and translucent. At the end of 14 days a second test is made to eliminate the eggs in which the chicks hatch. The males, or cockerels, may be sold to poultrymen who specialize in raising broilers, while the females, or pullets, are sold as future egg layers. The distance they may be shipped depends upon the length of time that the chicks can go without food and water - 72 hourse in the case of some breeds.

The Growing Farm

The day-old chicks are shipped to specialized growing farms or to farmers who raise them as a side line to general farming. The growing farm is the largest branch of the poultry raising industry. Here there may be ten or more chicken houses, with 40,000 to 50,000 chicks in a house.

The growing farms may dress and market their own poultry, or they may sell the birds to one of the big packing houses or chain grocery stores. Many birds are deep frozen. They may be packaged whole or cut up in sections for frying.