The world's largest chicken breeder has discovered that a key breed of rooster has a genetic issue, adding to problems constraining U.S. poultry production.
"There's a breeding issue with these roosters," says LSU Ag Center livestock specialist Ross Pruitt. "They're not as fertile as expected. And that's resulted in less eggs being produced that eventually become the chickens that we eat."
Aviagen, the world's largest chicken breeder, regularly tweaks genetics in birds to improve them.
"In agriculture, we're constantly trying to breed a more efficient animal, whether it's chicken or cattle or hogs," Pruitt says. "And, this time, apparently, the animal is a little bit too sensitive to what's occurring."
"This specific line of rooster gets sensitive to over-feeding," he says. "And, as a result, the more you over-feed it, the less fertile it is in terms of fertilizing the eggs."
The particular breed of rooster is sire, through its offspring, to as much as 25 percent of the nation's chickens raised for slaughter.
The issue is hitting an industry that is already suffering from a short supply of breeder birds. And, chicken production has not risen to the levels that had been expected
The U.S. Agriculture Department last month reduced its U.S. chicken production forecast for 2014, predicting only a 1 percent increase in poundage from 2013, well below the long-run annual average of 4 percent. The agency predicted 2015 production would be up only 2.6 percent.
"When you throw in the fact that the hens that you need to make a chicken to eat are also constricted, in terms of supply, you're getting it from both sides of the reproductive side of things with chickens," Pruitt says.
The limited growth in output is also occurring as foreign demand for U.S. chicken is on the rise.
Aviagen is scrambling to find a solution.
The chicken breeding company has replaced the breed suffering from fertility issues with a new breed, and is mating it with the same type of hens. Results, to date, are said to be favorable.
Pruitt doesn't think the problem will be all that long lasting.
"We're going to start to see an increase in chicken production, and those chicken prices moderate, probably late this year into the first part of next year."
He says part of the price increase is competitive, as pork and beef prices are up as well
"Chicken prices are on the rise right now, but nothing to the level that we're seeing with regard to the beef and pork side of things," says Pruitt.
"I don't think chicken prices are going to explode the way that beef prices have. But they're certainly going to have some upward pressure put on them, because of the tight supply of chicken, as well as just how tight the supplies are with regard to beef and pork."