World's Fair Chicken - How Chicken Got So BIG
The World’s Fair Chicken
The USDA, estimates that poultry production is more than a $20 billion annually. The National Chicken Council reports that the average American will eat over 90 pounds of chicken a year.
If you are from Michigan or a state that borders us, then you remember A & P Grocery Stores. The founder of The Atlantic and Pacific Supermarket chain (A&P) single handedly changed the American meat industry.
Before the end of World War II, chicken dinner was reserved for special occasions. Farmers kept chickens for their eggs. A roast chicken dinner was a Sunday treat. Chicken dinner during the week came by way of the extra rooster that turned mean, or a hen that didn't produce enough eggs. The popularity of chicken dinner in the United States is also partially due to it not being a rationed meat during World War II.
Chicken flocks were an assortment of breeds, with names like Rhode island Red, Jersey Giant, California Gray, and Wyandotte. It wasn’t until the 1950's and 60's when the broiler industry emerged and chicken factories with hundreds of thousands of birds appeared. The turning point for industrial chicken came when the Atlantic and Pacific supermarket chain held a national contest for the “Chicken of Tomorrow.”
This is the story of how an Italian immigrant and a grocery store sparked the modern chicken manufacturing industry that we know today. In 1945, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, the country’s largest poultry retailer, sponsored a national contest in partnership with USDA to produce a breed of chicken that would grow bigger, faster and most important have more white meat.
Farmers and breeders from across the country took part, submitting eggs for hatching at specially built facilities where the chicks were hatched and raised in controlled conditions on a standard diet. The chicks were closely tracked and monitored for weight gain, health and appearance. After 12 weeks, the birds were slaughtered weighed and judged for edible meat yield.
In 1946 and 1947, a series of state and regional contests took place and 40 finalists were chosen to compete for the national title of Chicken of Tomorrow at the World’s Fair. In 1948, and again in 1951, Arbor Acres White Rocks won in the purebred category. The white feathered Arbor Acres birds were preferred to the higher preforming dark feathered Red Cornish crosses from the Vantress Hatchery. Eventually the two breeds were crossed to become the Arbor Acre breed that came to dominate the genetic stock of chicken worldwide.
Image courtesy of Poultry Science
Driven by processors’ demands for more and cheaper chicken, the broiler industry went through a rapid change with hatcheries, growers, feed mills and processors all merged into larger and larger commercial farms with fewer breeds.
What do you get when you combine a family farm, a supermarket contest and a global corporation? A chicken revolution, and the consumer lost.
The thousands of farmers who took part in the Chicken of Tomorrow contests disappeared even more quickly than the breeds. They were replaced by ever larger chicken operations.