Part No. 27 of the National Flock Performance Study compiled by Don Bell, Poultry Specialist Emeritus, at the University of California Riverside, documents a steady improvement in performance parameters for the industry. Report EEU311, dated January 13 provides an interesting contrast between the survey conducted in 1997 and the most recent 2009 review.

In 1997, 203 flocks with an average of 66,000 hens amounting to 13.4 million birds comprised the sample. In 2009 this number was reduced to 165 flocks averaging 48,000 hens for 7.9 million in total. Given the current flock size of an average in-line complex, the 2009 sample is obviously biased in favor of smaller units. This has obvious implications concerning the interaction of flock size with housing, management, ventilation, disease challenge and feed costs.

Data documents progress

With these caveats the National Flock Performance Study data reflecting a difference of 12 years denotes genetic progress and advances in disease prevention, nutrition and management. The table comparing average U.S. hen performance shows a 6.6% improvement in contribution margin representing the difference between egg revenue (a function of egg price, feed conversion and egg mass) and feed costs per hen housed (influenced by feed conversion efficiency, daily intake and cost of feed). A review of the significant parameters shows a 37.5% increase in post-peak persistence.

Hens averaged 31 weeks over 90% in the 2009 survey compared to 19 weeks in 1997. This increase was attained despite a 2.5% decrease in average hen-day peak which attained 97.7% in 1997 and 95.1% in 2009. Total egg mass increased by 6.6% which was attributed to a combination of a 4.8% increase in hen-housed production through 60 weeks and a 2.6 % improvement in livability.


Efficiency offsets cost

Feed conversion improved by 1.1% from 1.84 (pounds of feed per pound of egg) in 1997 compared to 1.82 in 2009. Feed cost expressed in cents per dozen was almost static demonstrating that the escalation in feed cost was offset by improvements in production efficiency.

Within the limitation of the sample size and bias inherent in selection of flocks which were not in fact matched to type of operation or size, the data shows a steady improvement. Future studies should contrast the performance on large in-line complexes since this may be a more meaningful measure of the performance attained by the industry.

The 41% decline in the number of hens in the study and the 27% decrease in flock size tends to detract from the relevance of the data. Application of statistical analysis may also be helpful in understanding trends and the interaction among parameters especially if this can be correlated with flock size, housing system and measures to promote health.