Poultry Sector at a Glance
U.S. poultry products hold leading positions in both international and U.S. meat commodity markets, supported by competitive production structures, modern poultry genetics, abundant domestic feed resources, and strong consumer appeal. During 2011–2020, broiler chickens, which provide virtually all U.S. chicken meat, averaged 67 percent of all poultry sector sales. Chicken eggs, overwhelmingly destined for human consumption, averaged 21 percent, and turkeys averaged 12 percent of poultry sales.
Sales corresponding to 2020 are pictured in the map below.
U.S. poultry production mostly expanded over the 2011-2020 period, as producers sought to meet domestic and foreign consumer demand. Broiler and egg production each grew by 20 percent, while turkey production in 2020 was about 1 percent below that of 2011.
U.S. poultry production has a competitive advantage in the world due to abundant domestic feed resources, primarily soybean meal and corn. Feed is generally the most significant production cost across livestock, and poultry converts feed to human food products (meat and eggs) more efficiently than other livestock. Modern poultry genetics drove a dramatic increase in poultry feed conversion over time, requiring less feed (and duration) to produce market-ready birds (and eggs) and resulting in highly competitive product prices. Commercially-driven research in poultry genetics is concentrated at the firm and country levels, and U.S. firms have a leading role.
Commercial poultry production starts with primary breeder birds selected to lay fertile eggs for hatching on the basis of desirable genetic traits. These birds’ progeny become breeders that eventually produce birds used directly for meat or table egg production. The period during which breeders grow to reach reproductive maturity can be 4.5 to 6 months after hatching and is generally longer for turkeys.
Timeframes vary for harvesting meat from broilers or turkeys and table eggs from layer chickens. Market broiler chickens are generally slaughtered before 2 months of age, while turkeys often reach 4 months before slaughter. Table-egg-type chickens begin laying at about 4 to 4.5 months of age and start a cycle that can last 14–15 months, with additional production cycles optional after a molting period.
U.S. poultry firms integrate multiple stages of production more than other livestock producers; with feed production, fertile egg and chick production, and poultry commodity harvesting often residing under the same firm. Production contracts are also very common, where the services of growers that house and manage birds, for example, may be contracted by an integrated poultry firm in exchange for a fee per bird.
U.S. poultry meat consumption has trended up and displaced a substantial amount of red meat consumption in recent decades, perhaps in part because of favorable prices and health recommendations. The chart below shows these changing consumption trends by comparing one measure of poultry meat consumption, estimated retail disappearance, with the same measure for red meat consumption (inclusive of beef and pork). The chart also includes egg and egg product disappearance. ERS-published ‘disappearance’ statistics are a proxy for consumption, measuring supplies available for marketing in a given period. Meat disappearance equals production less net exports and net changes in cold storage. In effect, retail disappearance also subtracts an estimate of meat components that are not typically sold with meat at retail, such as certain bone portions and skin.
Trade impacts the U.S. poultry sector’s profitability by altering domestic supplies and prices from what they would have been without trade. Over 2011–2020, approximately 17 percent of domestic broiler production was exported, making it the most export oriented of the U.S. poultry commodities. Over the same period, 11 percent of U.S. turkey production and 4 percent of egg production were exported, respectively.
The majority of U.S. broiler exports are leg quarters and other products categorized as ‘dark’ chicken meat, and Mexico is the most significant foreign market for broiler meat. Mexico is also the destination for the majority of U.S. turkey exports, typically as cut-up parts shipped fresh or chilled for use by meat-processing industries. The largest markets for U.S. egg exports are Mexico and Canada, where shell eggs can more easily be transported; more distant markets tend to import egg products, including dry products.
The interactive table and chart below show summary statistics for the poultry sector. Use the “Select a sector” menu in the upper corner to toggle between the major sector components. Variables can be graphed and compared in the chart.