The poultry meat (chickens and turkeys) industry is highly vertically integrated. Individual poultry processing companies own the parent breeding farms, hatcheries, some feed mills, processing plants (abbatoirs) and even some farms. There is a trend toward processors selling facilities and leasing them back, moveing more toward a trading company model.
Growers (farmers) own the land, housing, equipment and labour to raise chickens and turkeys from chick up to the time for processing. It is estimated that growers represent 40-60% of capital investment in the industry. Some people refer to growing farms as “day care centres” or “5-star hotels” for chickens and turkeys.
This is quite different to how many other rural industries operate.
The two largest integrated chicken companies are the family-owned Baiada Poultry and the publicly-listed Ingham’s Enterprises, and between them they supply approximately 70% of Australia’s meat chickens. Both companies are headquartered in NSW, with chicken production and processing operations throughout Australia’s states. The balance of the market is supplied by another four medium-sized, privately owned integrated companies, which each supply between approximately 3% and 9% of the national market. These companies are located in NSW (Cordina Chicken Farms), Victoria (Turosi Foods and Hazeldene’s) and Queensland (Golden Cockerel). A number of smaller processors make up the remaining 5-9% of production.
Rearing of the meat chickens, from day old chicks to the day of processing, is generally contracted out by the integrated chicken processing companies to contract chicken farmers. Approximately 700 chicken farmers produce about 80% of Australia ’s meat chickens under these contracts. These farms are generally owned by independent family farmers or corporate businesses.
Most commercial meat chicken farms are intensive, highly mechanised operations that occupy relatively small areas compared with other forms of farming.
Meat chickens are not kept in cages in any of the production systems used in the Australian chicken industry. The main systems are generally referred to as conventional (barn) and free-range, with a small number of birds raised in organic systems. A conventional farm raises chickens on the floors of large enclosed barns and the birds do not have access to an outside area or range. These farms are the main types used in Australia, but a significant proportion of birds are now raised in free range systems, where in addition to their barn, the chickens are able to access an outdoors area during daylight hours after they are old enough to deal with the outside temperatures and big enough that they aren’t at high risk of predation. Free range meat chickens are produced using similar management and feeding practices as for conventional meat chickens.
Under 1% of birds are raised in organic systems, where the focus is on avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals such as synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and antibiotics. Feed must be predominantly from certified organic ingredients and birds cannot be given antibiotics or routine vaccinations.
Many conventional and free range farms raise birds according to the standards of third party accreditation schemes, such as the RSPCA Approved Farming scheme and the Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA) certification scheme.