3.5 The chicken meat industry in Australia - Boosting industry productivity
In 1975, it took 64.1 days and 4.66kg of feed to grow a chicken to 2kg. In 2011, it takes just 35 days and as little as 3.4kg of feed.
Breeding – Most of the genetic stock for Australia’s chicken meat industry comes from specialist breeding companies in the USA and Europe. Breeding companies select for characteristics such as robustness, disease resistance, growth, meat yield and more efficient feed conversion to help production and cost efficiencies. Change is achieved through conventional selective breeding techniques, not genetic engineering.
Feed Conversion – Today’s chickens need less feed to reach market weight, due largely to improvements in the breeds used, that have been developed through targeted breeding programs, as well as improved animal husbandry and bird nutrition. There has been a strong research focus on chicken nutrition directed towards determining the best mix of nutrients to optimise growth and the efficiency with which feed is converted into meat for current meat chicken breeds, while maintaining optimal bird health. Nutrition specialists design diets to meet the bird’s precise nutrient requirements as it grows.
Shed types – Birds are kept on the floor in large, well-ventilated sheds, not in cages. Newer sheds have sophisticated ventilation systems with fans at one end of the shed which draw air into the shed through cooling pads in the walls, over the chickens, and out the far end of the shed, capable of completely renewing the air within a shed in under a minute. Temperature, humidity and air quality conditions in these sheds are monitored and managed by computerised systems which automatically adjust the fans, heating and cooling settings to optimise bird comfort.
Changes to processing – Increasing automation and computerisation have increased the capacity of chicken processing plants and reduced the labour required while improving occupational health and safety. Food safety, shelf life improvements and minimising waste are also primary targets.
Managing waste for productive outcomes – The industry minimises wastage across its production and processing operations by reusing or recycling a wide range of materials. For example, on the farm, spent shed litter – that is, bedding and manure – is collected for use as fertiliser after the birds leave the farm. At processing, all parts of the chicken are used; with approximately 70 per cent of the chicken going to human consumption while the rest is used as pet food or as ingredients in products such as blood and bone fertiliser.