Poultry are domesticated fowl kept primarily for meat and eggs. Several poultry birds, including the chicken and the goose, were domesticated over 3,000 years ago. Chickens are by far the most common kind of poultry raised throughout the world. Most experts believe that chickens developed from the red jungle fowl, a species of wild fowl found in Southeast Asia. People probably began to tame the chicken in prehistoric times. During the 1500's, chickens were often taken on board ships as a source of food. By the mid-1900's, chickens had become the main product on many farms. Smaller farms still combine crop production and chicken or egg production. Most large poultry farms, however, do not raise crops or other animals.
There are more than ten billion chickens in the world. Most chickens are raised on large commercial farms that are specialized to produce either eggs or meat. The world's people eat more than 73 billion pounds of chicken each year. Hens produce about 600 billion eggs every year. Almost all the eggs eaten in Canada and the United States are chicken eggs. People in some other countries also eat the eggs of ducks, geese, and other fowl.
Chickens, ducks, and turkeys are the most common kinds of poultry raised in the United States and Canada. In the mid-1990's, U.S. farmers earned about $18 billion a year from the sale of poultry meat and eggs. Canadian farmers earned about $1.4 billion annually from poultry and eggs. In 1997, there were 403,495,000 chickens in the United States, excluding commercial broilers. The 1999 per capita consumption of chicken and turkey in the United States was 68.3 pounds. Chickens represented about 80 per cent of the poultry consumed. The per capita consumption of eggs was 32.8 that year. Agriculture represented $333.7 billion in the nation's economy in 2000 http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0300384.html.
California is the leading egg-producing state, followed by Ohio and Pennsylvania. Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama produce most of the chickens that are used for meat. North Carolina is the chief turkey-producing state. Turkeys are generally raised outdoors in pens or fenced fields. Long Island produces about a fourth of the ducks in the United States.
Although poultry are used primarily for food, they also provide several important by-products. Manufacturers use the feathers of ducks and geese to stuff pillows and insulated clothing. Farmers use poultry manure as fertilizer. Eggs are used not only as food but also in making paint, vaccines, and other products.
Today, large-scale producers virtually monopolize the nation's poultry industry. Some of the farms have flocks of more than a million birds. Specialized hatcheries deliver chicks fresh from the incubator to commercial growers, who mass-produce birds under precisely controlled conditions on diets scientifically calculated to produce rapid growth to market size, for delivery to processors. Because of their lower cost and lower fat content, chicken and turkey are increasingly popular protein sources with American consumers, rivaling pork and even beef in per-capita consumption.
Laying hens are female chickens raised to produce eggs. They begin to lay eggs when they are about five months old. The birds are kept in long, low buildings called laying houses, each of which may hold as many as 50,000 hens. In many of these houses, the hens live in cages that have a sloped floor so the eggs can roll out. In highly automated laying houses, mechanical devices carry feed and water to the hens, and a conveyor belt carries the eggs to a central collecting room. The hens are kept in the laying house for about a year after they start to lay eggs. Then they are either kept in laying houses for another season, or are sold for slaughter and replaced with young birds. The exact age hens begin laying depends on the lighting in the laying house, the breed, nutrition, and the occurrence of diseases. Farmers can control when a chicken begins laying eggs by using artificial lighting in the laying house. When lighting is used that imitates long or lengthening days, chickens will begin to lay their eggs at an earlier age. In addition, chickens lay an increased number of eggs when they are exposed to 14 to 16 hours of light per day.
Egg farmers generally sell their eggs directly to supermarkets or to wholesalers. Most eggs are sold to consumers fresh, though some are used in such processed food items as cake mixes and noodles. Eggs must be washed, graded, and packed in cartons to prepare them for marketing. Inspectors determine the quality of the interior of an egg by candling. This technique involves examination of the egg while shining a strong light through it from behind. Eggs are stored and shipped under refrigeration to ensure their freshness.
Broilers or fryers are chickens raised only for their meat. Most broilers are raised indoors on a dirt or concrete floor that is covered with litter. Litter is straw, wood shavings, or some other material that absorbs moisture, keeping the birds clean. Broilers eat and drink from automatic feeders and water containers.
Poultry that have reached market size are sent to processing plants to be slaughtered, inspected, and graded. Then they are shipped to supermarkets. More than 90 per cent of the broilers sold in the United States and Canada are sold fresh. About 70 per cent of the turkeys are processed and sold as specialty meat. Most of the whole turkeys are sold frozen, chiefly at Thanksgiving and Christmas.