The Rise of Factory Farm Poultry Part 3, The Chicken of Tomorrow

In the 1940s, the poultry business was dominated by the production of eggs, with meat being mostly a by-product of that industry. The USDA wanted to change this reality by creating a chicken that would grow faster, fatter, and on less feed than ever before.

And so, “The Chicken of Tomorrow” contest was developed. Top breeders throughout the country would compete to breed the best bird in America, with two of the country’s largest grocery store chains offering to sponsor the competition.

At the time, Standardbred birds were the most popular, prevalent form of poultry in the United States. While it’s not surprising that most of the entries in the contest were purebreds, such as the New Hampshire and Plymouth Rock, it was incredible news when an F1 hybrid mix of the New Hampshire and Cornish won the competition.

These crosses had improved growth, increased breast size, and provided excellent uniformity. So when all was said and done, the contest winner was Charles Vantress’s crosses. Second place went to Henry Saglio’s Arbor Acres.

Today, Vantress’s company operates as Cobb-Vantress, and Arbor Acres has taken on the name Aviagen after going through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Together, both companies provide breeding stock for every one of the more than 9 billion broilers raised in the United States each year, as well as billions more hybrid broilers raised throughout the world.

The birds they bred in “The Chicken of Tomorrow” contest were healthy and vibrant birds, similar to many of the stock produced on the Good Shepherd Ranch. Although this scientific push for a new level of efficiency would not be satisfied with such “small” advancements, it had started an aggressive march towards improved efficiency through hybridization.

In the 1950s, these changes led to Vantress and Arbor Acres developing F3 and F4 hybrids. These progressively efficient, productive hybrids were still relatively healthy and not significantly transformed from purebred stock. This would all change, however, in the 1960s when a feed experiment changed poultry breeding into something entirely new.

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