Is There Too Much Emphasis on… ‘Meat Type’ Poultry?

September 1949
G.S. Vickers
Thursday, 01 September 1949
By G.S. Vickers

The writer, Mr. Vickers believes there are some good arguments for the creation of a really good dual-purpose chicken. Straight egg-laying strains, he says, have only one leg to stand upon. As so have these recently developed straight 'broiler strains'. "What we want is a chicken with two good legs." This article was written for Poultry Supply Dealer, and appeared in Poultry Digest.

While inspecting flocks for a certain hatchery recently, I heard several flock owners complain to the hatchery manager that winter egg production of their flocks, even in those made up entirely of pullets was not satisfactory. One man went so far as to say that he hadn't made any money at all on his chickens, and was going to turn his laying house into a hog house.

Most of these flock owners had New Hampshires, many for the first time. None of them had been able to get over 60% egg production from their flocks, even though nearly every bird appeared to be laying. Apparently the stock simply didn't have the ability to produce heavily.

The hatchery manager was new on the job and not too well informed regarding the past history of the flocks in question. So he asked me if I could tell him what the trouble was, as we drove from place to place.

Well, I happen to know that last year his hatchery put out broiler strain New Hampshire chicks to these flock owners. The strain evidently just didn't have high laying ability bred into it. I have seen the same thing happen before. The question is: What are hatcherymen going to do about such situations?

There seems to be little doubt that strains, especially New Hampshires, selected and bred for their ability to grow rapidly make slightly more profitable broilers than those that have not been bred for rapid growth. Likewise, it seems that in many cased egg production has been largely ignored by breeders interested in developing broiler strains, with the result that such strains frequently are incapable of sustained high egg production comparable to that of strains bred for high laying ability.

And unfortunately, in the past, most of those who have bred their birds for egg production have pretty largely disregarded meat qualities of their stock.

Broiler raisers naturally are interested in strains that will be most efficient as meat producers. Unfortunately, such chicks have to be hatched from eggs produced by laying flocks; and these laying flocks are owned mostly by flock owners who must make their profits not from broilers but from eggs.

When broiler growers want one kind of chick and flock owners want another, obviously they can both be satisfied only with a chicken that makes a top-notch broiler and at the same time will lay heavily enough so that flockowners can make decent profits from eggs.

I sometimes wonder if we aren't placing too much emphasis at present on the importance of developing meat-type birds. With industry attention so strongly focused on meat qualities, egg production is being almost completely ignored. In my opinion w have become almost as "meat lopsided" as we formerly were "egg top-heavy".

Ideal Chicken

The ideal all-around chicken, of course, would be one that would still lay lots of eggs, so that everyone concerned could make a profit on it.

Most people believe such a strain can be developed. It will obviously take longer to evolve a strain of this kind than to develop strains for particular purposes, because it would be a much more complicated job. Nevertheless, the differences between the egg production strains and the specialized broiler strains, with respect to meat qualities are not very great, as several recent tests have shown. And with a little emphasis and selection pressure for meat qualities some of our egg strains could probably equal, or nearly equal, the pure broiler strains from a meat production standpoint.

I know one hatcheryman in a broiler area who formerly produced pure, broiler strain New Hampshire chicks. Egg production of his supply flocks, however, was so low that he had constant trouble keeping flockowners. He solved his problem by supplying his flockowners with an egg production strain of New Hampshires, to which he mates males of the pure broiler strain.

Dual Qualities Result

He says the offspring are just about as good for broilers as the pure broiler strain. And the flockowners are much better satisfied because of the improvement in egg production.

It is my belief that meat and broiler quality can be improved more quickly and with less effort than egg production factors. Therefore, I believe a good egg production strain with reasonably good meat and broiler qualities can be more quickly developed into a good, all-around chicken than pure broiler strains with low egg producing ability could.

I know of one breeder who is basing his present work on this theory. He is selecting day-old chicks for rapid feathering again at two weeks, and he is weighing all chicks at 8 and 12 weeks of age.

I his individual breeding pens he is using only good egg producing females from good egg production families, that exhibited good average weight at 8 and 12 weeks of age.

No individual male is used that was not above the average weight of all males at 8 and 12 weeks. Furthermore, these males must be well fleshed and must possess good meat qualities.

I believe such a procedure will rapidly improve the broiler and meat qualities of his strain.

I believe an all-around good chicken can be produced. I believe it will be produced, and that the day of the one-purpose chicken is numbered. The latter has only one leg to stand on and what we need is a good two-legged chicken. To be sure, this is a day of specialization, but the specializing should be directed toward producing a good, all-purpose bird.

An all-around bird is what is needed in the great majority of farm flocks, and that is what is needed in broiler areas, too, if flockowners are to be satisfied and enabled to make satisfactory profits.

Some people have suggested that hatcherymen should produce both egg laying and broiler strains, and pay higher premiums to flockowners who produce the broiler strain eggs to compensate for lower egg production. This is another of those theories, however, which hatcherymen tell me simply will not work in practice.

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