June 1995


Ralph A. Ernst Extension Poultry Specialist University of California, Avian Sciences Department, Davis, CA 95616

Meat chickens may be marketed as broilers, roasters or game hens. Typical eviscerated weights are shown below. Modern commercial meat strains reach an average live weight of 4.0 pounds at 42 days or 4.8 pounds at 49 days of age. The chickens are slaughtered at an appropriate age to get the eviscerated weight desired by the customer.

                            Live           Eviscerated
                           Weight             Weight

                            lbs.              lbs.

Cornish Game Hen          1.2 -   3.1        .75  -  2.0
Broiler/Fryer             4.0 -   6.3       2.8   -  4.4
Roaster                   7.4 -  10.0       5.0   -  7.0

Meat chicken production in California is dominated by a few large integrated companies. Typically these companies control hatching egg production, hatching, growing, processing and marketing of the birds. They often mill their own feed and render the offal, and feathers to produce feed ingredients. Any of these steps may be controlled by contract. Typically the company owns all functions except live production (California chicken producers often own some of their production units but chickens are also grown under contract with local farms). With a production contract the farmer may provide the growing facility, equipment, litter, brooder fuel, electricity, and labor. The company usually provides the chicks, feed, medications, bird loading and hauling, and some grow-out supervision. Contract payments are about 4.5 cents per pound marketed ($.22/4.8 lb. broiler).

Chicken Production

Growing houses are often simple gable roof buildings 40 to 50 ft. wide and 400 to 500 ft. long. Modern houses have curtains to control air entering the sides of the building. Exhaust fans may be located in one end of the building or within the building to blow air over the birds during hot weather. The curtains are raised and lowered to provide an appropriate size air inlet for natural or mechanical ventilation. Buildings have two to four overhead fogger lines to cool chickens in hot weather. In California the roof is usually insulated with at least an inch of rigid foam insulation. Space allowances range from .7 to 1.0 square feet per bird depending on season, house type and age marketed.

Feed is stored in steel, self unloading tanks on one end of the building; it is moved to the birds by mechanical conveyers which drop the feed into attached pans. Water is supplied by bird activated nipples attached to water pipes running the length of the building. Feeders and water nipples are raised and lowered with a mechanical winch system to provide appropriate eating and drinking height for birds. Chicks are provided feed in trays or small feeders and water in small drinkers during early life and are then trained to use the mechanical systems. Three diets are typically used; starter, grower and unmedicated finisher or withdral feed (last 7 days).

Chicks are started on floors covered with 2 to 4 in. of litter (shavings, rice hulls, etc.). Heat is provided for young chicks by radiant gas brooders, hot water pipes or wall mounted furnaces. Young chicks require a room temperature of about 87oF during the first week of life. This is decreased about 5o/wk. until ambient temperature is reached.

Diseases are controlled by vaccination, medicated feed for coccidiosis control, exclusion of vectors, sanitation and use of one age farms.

A typical broiler production cost per pound produced might be feed $.19, chick $.04, contract payment $.05, other $.02. These costs assume efficiencies of scale available to large producers.

Sample Projection of Costs and Returns On a Contract Broiler House 1

Assumptions: Broiler house with mechanical ventilation, side curtains, roof insulation, foggers, forced air furnaces and nipple drinkers. House is 40' x 500' (20,000 square feet) with a capacity of 22,200 broilers (1); birds are grown to 6.25 lb. average weight (2); five batches will be grown per year (3); 95% will be marketed (4); contract payment $0.045/lb. (5).

Total annual returns: (1x2x3x4x5) = $29,658

     Building           $60,000
     Grading              5,500
     Well                 2,500
     Equipment           47,000
Total investment        115,000

Annual fixed costs:
     Loan repayment (10 year payback at 10.5% interest)   $19,199

Annual Expenses:
     Litter                   $1,200
     Electricity               2,250
     Fuel                      2,200
     Repairs                   1,000
     Ins. & Taxes              1,650
     Miscellaneous               500
Total Expenses                $8,800

Net annual return to capital, land, labor and management:
    $29,658 - $8,800 = $20,858

Net average estimated cash flow; net to grower after all expenses
and state and federal income and social security taxes (34.5%):
     years 1 to 10           $ 1,436
     years 11+                13,662

This analysis shows that several contract houses would be needed to provide a reasonable income for a family. One manager can handle up to 16 houses of this size with approximately 100 hours of supplemental labor/wk. during the first two weeks of the chicks life. Additional labor would also be needed when houses are cleaned and prepared for new chicks (occurs every 7 to 8 weeks).

1Reference: 1995 Poultry Production systems in Georgia: Costs and Returns Analysis; D.L. Cunningham, University of Georgia.