LINCOLN, Neb. — In 1950 there were poultry science departments at more than 40 state colleges and universities. Today six have departments of poultry science: Auburn University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University, University of Arkansas and University of Georgia.
These six states are the top broiler (chicken raised for meat) production states in 2010, according to the National Chicken Council.
During those 60 years, poultry production has evolved from farming to an industry.
World War II (1939-1945), created a huge demand for eggs and meat for the troops, as the U.S. was supplying allies before and after U.S direct involvement. As the draft continued and farm workers left to serve, more efficient production methods and mechanization helped farms become more productive.
At the end of the war, fewer people returned to farming and new urban markets developed. This helped fuel the modernization of the poultry industry.
At the same time discoveries in nutrition, genetics, physiology (especially egg production), health and food science helped poultry production become an industry.
Brigid McCrea, extension poultry specialist at Delaware State University, explained that the commercial poultry industry funded much of the research it needed during the past 40 years.
Land grant university researchers produced information about commercial poultry production but research funding was generally not available to study small flocks because they were viewed as a hobby or a non-commercial source of poultry.
“Research on small flock topics such as niche market poultry, organic poultry production and pastured poultry management have languished in the past 30 years,” McCrea said.
Filling the gap
Recently there has been growing interest in home-produced foods — both gardening and poultry production.
“There has been a corresponding increase in the number of inquiries by small flock owners asking why there is so little information available to meet their management needs,” said McCrea.
“Frustrated, these individuals have turned to non-science-based and anecdotal information in an effort to meet their educational and business development needs.”
“With the loss of university poultry departments and retirements of key extension people, there has been a loss of updated science-based extension publications for this sector,” said Gregory Martin, poultry extension educator at Penn State University.
“The work of the small and backyard flock resource area on extension.org fills that gap and supports extension offices that fall outside of major poultry production regions.
“The information, including ‘Ask an expert’ on extension, is supported by researchers and educators with poultry experience in both large and small production settings.”
The ‘Small and Backyard Flock’ resource on extension has information on getting started as well as poultry anatomy, behavior, biology and management.
The site includes more than 250 frequently asked questions and more than 350 terms in a glossary.
And it’s not just chickens. There’s information on ducks, turkeys, geese and other poultry breeds.
University researchers and educators from 18 states contributed and reviewed information.
The extension group also produces webinars to help the public learn about small and backyard poultry flocks. The next webinar is March 28 from 7 to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Visit https://learn.extension.org/events/802 for more information.