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Commercial Poultry Production

History of Mississippi Poultry Industry

During the early part of this century there was great interest in poultry breeds. Selection and breeding by poultry fanciers was for the purposes of producing a pure breed and a bird that would place high in poultry exhibitions. Bird performance was considered secondary to productive considerations. Poultry judges occupied positions of prestige and influence. Some of the more popular breeds were Wyandotts, Dominiques, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns. There were many plumage and color variations within most breeds.

The poultry industry began to mature during the late 1920's when commercial poultrymen began cross breeding to improve productive characteristics. This practice was considered most reprehensible by the bird fanciers. The fanciers suggested that breeders who crossed breeds were admitting that they did not have the ability, or patience, to succeed in the purebred world. This view is still sometimes heard today despite the fact that the value of heterosis has been scientifically demonstrated beyond all doubts.

It was common in the 1920's through the 1940's to see Mississippi hatcheries located on or near the main streets of many towns. Chicks were most often sold over the counter with few sales amounting to as many as 100 chicks. Most orders were for 10 to 50 chicks.

In the late 1920's, the State Poultry Federation served the poultry industry in Mississippi. There were about 35 county associations with over 2500 members and one area association, the Delta Poultry Federation. The Delta Poultry Federation had its annual poultry show at Indianola. In the 1930's, the Mississippi Hatchery Association and the Mississippi Poultry Federation combined to form the Mississippi Poultry Producers Association (MPPA) which eventually developed into the present Mississippi Poultry Association (MPA).

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) was initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1935 to provide better control and eventual eradication of pullorum disease (commonly called Bacillary White Diarrhea). Significant progress was made during the early 40's to control the disease. The percentage of pullorum reactors permitted in a flock was reduced from 10% in 1940 to less than 5% in 1945. Today, Mississippi is designated as a Pullorum-Clean state. The disease has been eradicated from commercial poultry flocks throughout the state.

There was considerable growth of the poultry industry in the U.S. during the years of World War II. This growth, however, did not greatly impact the developing Mississippi poultry industry until the late 1940's and early 1950's.

During this period, a trend developed toward poultry companies owning their own breeder flocks, hatcheries, feed mills, grow-out operations and processing plants. This type of operation was referred to as a "vertically integrated operation". The advantages of this type of operation included reduced costs on volume purchases, formation of a single profit point (at the sale of bird), implementation of the latest technical information available, better record keeping and improved processing and marketing procedures.

By the mid-1950's, integrated poultry companies began contracting with farmers to produce eggs and broilers. In general, the contract agreement called for the company to provide chickens, feed, and technical knowledge, while the farmer had to provide the land, house, equipment and labor. The vast majority of Mississippi's broilers and eggs are still produced under this type of contract arrangement.

The Extension Poultry Department and the Mississippi Poultry Improvement Association conducted numerous poultry barbecue demonstrations throughout the state to promote increased poultry meat consumption. Poultry companies hired many men to work with the farmers with whom they had production contracts. These men were called "servicemen". Mississippi State University conducted schools to teach the most current technology available. Approximately 150 to 300 poultry workers attended the two-day schools.

The industry matured during the 60's and early 70's. Several companies (for various reasons) ceased to operate efficiently and were purchased by other companies. The industry consolidated into fewer but larger companies.

Today, the poultry industry is the largest income-producing agricultural commodity in Mississippi. In 1996, the poultry industry produced $1.35 billion in farm value products. The total impact to the economy of the state is calculated to be about $8.5 billion annually. The Mississippi poultry industry produced 650 million broilers and more than 680 million commercial eggs during 1996. The primary broiler producing counties include Scott, Smith, Jones, Simpson, Leake, Newton and Wayne counties. The top egg producing county is Hinds county.

The majority of the Mississippi poultry industry's income is generated by broilers (94%), with commercial egg production (5%) providing most of the remainder. Spent hens and non-commercial farm chickens produced about 1% of the total poultry income. The poultry industry in Mississippi has been expanding during the last 30 years at an average rate of over 6% annually. The future looks bright for continued poultry expansion and successes.