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Broiler chickens in the UK - an introduction

Although poultry were reared throughout ancient history by the Romans, Egyptians and Chinese, there was no real poultry industry to speak of in the UK until after the First World War. Up to then, farmers saw poultry keeping as an incidental activity and not “proper agriculture”.

the light sussex - a dual purpose chickenFollowing the First World War ex-soldiers used their “de-mob” money to set up in poultry production. The scale of meat production remained small and up to the 1950's chicken was largely seen as a delicacy meat for special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. Until this time poultry meat was derived from dual-purpose birds that produced both eggs and meat.

a modern broiler unitHowever in the 1950s a purpose-grown meat bird was introduced from the USA. These birds were called “broilers” since they produced young, tender meat which did not require the same long-roasting that had been required previously. These birds reached table weight more quickly and were not used in egg production. Around the same time de-rationing of poultry feed allowed flock sizes to increase and the introduction of electricity on to farms also allowed greater numbers of birds to be cared for in a properly-controlled environment.

fresh whole chickenNowadays chicken is a very popular meat. In the UK we eat over 25 kg of poultry meat per person per year and over 800 million chickens are slaughtered to meet demand. Chicken is generally perceived as a cheap, healthy and nutritious meat. Recently there has been a trend for increasing sales as portions rather than as whole birds. Similarly fresh meat sales have increased while sales of frozen produce have declined.

a modern broiler unitBroiler production is a competitive business and good management of the flock is essential if a profit is to be achieved. Typical performance figures for a modern units can be summarised thus:

Killing age of birds ~43 days
Killing weight ~2.2kg
% usable meat ~70%
Food conversion ratio 1.9 (the ratio of food required to produce weight gain)

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Harper Adams University College in the production of this article.

Statistics for Poultry

Slaughterings fowls
798 819 819 841 842 864 849 842 831 839 904
Slaughterings turkeys
27 26 23 22 21 19 18 16 16 15 16
Slaughterings ducks and geese
19 22 20 20 18 19 19 17 15 14 14
Poultry value of production
(£ millions)
1 301 1 355 1 262 1 328 1 306 1 300 1 233 1 249 1 579 1 590 1 799
Poultry production as % new supply
89% 91% 91% 91% 88% 88% 87% 90% 92% 90% 88%

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