Broilers Differentiating a Commodity
Richard T. Rogers
A chicken in every pot.
-- Herbert Hoover, 1928
A broiler is the industry's name for a young chicken grown for meat rather than for eggs. The name causes some confusion. The term fryers, the industry's first widely used term for young chickens sold for their meat, reflected the most common method of cooking chicken before health concerns reduced interest in fried foods. Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced fast-food chicken in the 1930s, and its growth made the Colonel's recipe famous worldwide, but it has changed its name to KFC to deemphasize the word fried. Even the National Broiler Council, at its fall 1990 board meeting, debated a name change to include the word chicken. The council decided not to change its name but to continue to use the word chicken in consumer promotions such as "September is National Chicken Month."
The chicken has a long history, with its first recorded reference being in China around 3300 B.C.1 The ancestor to the modern chicken is thought to be from Asia, and these colorful and aggressive birds still populate parts of Burma and northern India. The ancient sport of cock fighting was the sport of choice among emperors, kings, noblemen, and common folk as well, with prized fighters selling as thoroughbred racehorses do today. The birds were valued by armies, traders, and explorers for their minimal needs and many uses: eggs, meat, entertainment--even the feathers had great value.
Although chickens arrived in America along with the first European settlers, the raising of chickens primarily for their meat is a relatively new industry. In the early 1900s, the United States was still a country of small farms, and chickens were a sideline venture of most farms. Although the number of chickens on each farm was small, it was a huge business in the aggregate. Chickens were easy to raise, and the extra eggs were sold to the townspeople, providing supplemental money for the household. The cockerels (the young male chickens) were sold in the spring as frying chickens, a springtime treat for any family.
Farmers in rural areas close to major population centers, such as Philadelphia and New York City, saw opportunities in the spring fryer business. Also, farmers from poor cotton-growing states, such as Georgia and Arkansas, began to seek better returns from chickens than from