Colorado State University animal science professor looks at poultry challengesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fort Collins, Colo. – “We want to know what opportunities are in the poultry industry, for us to capture the supply of poultry that we want people in this country to consume,” explained Gary Smith, an animal science professor at Colorado State University.
Smith spoke at the International Livestock Forum (ILF) in Fort Collins on Jan. 12, sharing input gathered from his colleagues about focal points for improvement in protein markets.
“If we order chicken and we get chicken, we’re always pleased with the outcome. We’re satisfied because it’s what we wanted and it’s exactly what we asked for,” stated Smith.
This gives chicken an advantage in the protein market because it is a consistent product.
The other advantage for poultry is that the industry can set an extra 1 million eggs to produce enough product when other protein markets are in short supply.
While poultry production is not a widespread across the Rocky Mountain West, the impact of the protein can significantly affect beef markets.
Smith illustrated that opportunities still exist for improvement in the industry, noting, “Overwhelmingly, the greatest opportunities for chicken are in addressing animal welfare concerns.”
“I was surprised because I did not know that broiler chickens are kept in the dark their entire lives,” he said.
Smith also mentioned de-beaking, transportation of live birds, maceration of baby chickens and large bird euthanasia as animal wellbeing concerns.
“We want to treat and kill these animals in a way that is humane,” he added.
A few consumers are becoming concerned about the daily lives of the birds.
“Some people are now telling the poultry industry that they need to put toys in the brooder houses and places where they’re raising chickens, so they can play with them and not be bored,” he commented.
Overall housing conditions and management are still a concern due to outdoor access and space constraints.
“It doesn’t matter whether they are cage layers or broiler chickens being produced in cages or out in the house. Chickens have plenty of room when they are little but not much room when they are big,” Smith said.
Fast growth and skeletal problems also pose a challenge.
“Chickens now have such good genetics for muscle growth that muscle has outgrown the skeleton. Producers know that, and they are working on it, so that they can solve it genetically,” noted Smith.
Consumers are concerned about the use of antibiotics, as well.
“A lot of people in the industry are now moving to products that don’t have antibiotics in their feeding regime,” Smith said.
Reducing feed costs and improving nutrition is another opportunity for improvement in the poultry industry.
“The number two concern is whether producers are going to use our corn for food or for fuel,” he explained.
Producers are successfully utilizing distiller’s dried grains, but believe that they could be more productive using corn.
“Supplies of feed can be forward contracted,” he noted.
In the last several years, it has been very profitable for producers to forward contract their corn, locking in prices to be protected from increases, he said.
The next improvement opportunity discussed by Smith was control of food-borne pathogens.
“We need to do everything we can to control those things, especially Salmonella and Campylobacter,” he warned.
Producers are currently concerned about backyard chickens and the potential for spreading of disease to broiler or egg-laying operations.
“The outbreak of bird flu or avian influenza that occurred in Oregon came from backyard chickens, which they probably got from migratory birds,” he stated.
Smith added that producers are concerned about waste management, including disposal of dead chickens, manure and feathers. Proper handling is required to reduce both the spread of disease and environmental impact.
“The industry wants to minimize the outbreak of both zoonotic and metabolic diseases,” he continues.
Another improvement opportunity includes managing water scarcity, usage and impaired quality.
“The poultry industry uses more water per pound of meat than any other two combined,” stated Smith.
Processing involves many practices that are water intensive, making usage and scarcity of water a concern.
Lastly, the poultry industry wants to develop new products for new markets.
“The poultry industry has a problem because they don’t think there is any difference between organic and conventional,” he commented.
The question, he noted, is whether or not the consumer thinks that there is a difference. He explained that if a consumer is willing to pay a higher price for a given product, marketing it will carry some value.
“These opportunities are things the poultry industry must be concerned about. They must work with consumers to make sure that they feel good about it as well,” he said.