History of Favorite American Food Eggs Part 1

About the favorite American food eggs, history and information of chicken production.

EGGS

There has been a slight decrease in the popularity of eggs recently, partly because of the disappearance of breakfast as an important meal in many homes. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture statistics show a decline in the annual per-capita use of eggs (an a erage of 362 in 1957 as compared to 287 in 1974). Nevertheless eggs are still big business and account for about 2.5% of total supermarket sales, or over $600 million per year.

According to some sources wild jungle fowl were domesticated about 3,000 years ago in Southeast Asia; other sources add that Columbus brought chickens with him on his 2nd trip to the western hemisphere. Today there are over 200 breeds of chickens but the most popular is the Single Comb White Leghorn, a white-egg layer. Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, and Plymouth Rock hens are popular brown-egg producers.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s the egg industry took a major shift from farm flock (under 400 hens) to commercial flock (with as many as 20,000 to 100,000 hens and sometimes more). Supermarket eggs are generally from commercial flocks but it is still possible to buy farm eggs in many areas. Eggs had been primarily a corn belt industry until quite recently, when the West and Southeast became major production centers. Statistics indicate that the new commercialism means more than just keeping more chickens around for the job; it means each hen is pressed to its production capacity. One source shows a rise of individual hen activity from an average of 151 eggs per year in 1945 to 231 eggs in 1974. How do you get a hen to work 50% harder? Simple, says Science.

Methods for increasing egg production per hen are often cruel or at best they do not take into account that chickens have any affinity to nature. Genetic technology has made it possible to lower the age of sexual maturity and eliminate the winter pause. Chickens in commercial flocks usually live in windowless houses where all light, temperature, and food are automated. Only one human worker is needed to tend 20,000 hens. The typical cage is only a few feet square. Hormones may be given to increase egg production or the hens may be stimulated to produce their own hormones with artificial light. Light penetrating the hen's eye causes the pituitary gland to secrete the egg-producing hormones. The combination of over-crowding and of light intensity frequently leads to cannibalism and other signs of social stress. In some cases cannibalism is "controlled" by debeaking (clipping the tip of the top half of the beak) the birds. Aside from losing the natural rhythms of night/day and winter/summer in regard to their body functions, commercial-flock chickens may be subjected to force-molting by having feed withheld for several days. This will result in a 2nd or 3rd laying period without the normal molt period in between. It is also common practice for the birds to be sent out for slaughter after their 1st year of laying.

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