The Cost of Slow Growth Chickens

I’ve had a couple previous posts on both the supply of and demand for slower growing chickens. There have been increasing calls for retailers to switch to slower growing breeds (often, older “heritage” breeds), with the presumptive aim to increase animal welfare and taste. The downside is that it is more expensive to produce chicken with these older breeds. The Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics has now published a paper I co-authored with Nathan Thompson at Purdue University and Shawna Weimer, an assistant professor of poultry science at the University of Maryland on the costs for individual producers switching to slower growing breeds and the market impacts we project would occur if the entire industry did the same. This is an updated and peer-reviewed version of the paper I previously blogged about.

Here is the abstract:

There has been substantial productivity growth in the broiler industry; however, high growth rates might adversely affect animal welfare, resulting in calls for slow-growth breeds. This research shows production costs are 11%–25% per pound higher for slower-growing breeds than for modern breeds, depending on the target endpoint. Breakeven wholesale price premiums needed equate net returns of slow- to fast-growth broilers range from $0.10/lb to $0.36/lb. Annual costs of an industry-wide conversion to slow growth are $450 million for consumers and $3.1 billion for producers. Consumer willingness-to-pay would need to increase 10.8% to offset the producer losses.

Don’t like some of our assumptions? We’ve also created an excel-based tool that allows the user to change assumptions about input and output prices, as well as other model parameters, and see how costs and optimal days of feed change for faster and slower growing breeds. The tool dynamically updates figures like the one below. Try it for yourself!