Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
are dominated by small, family organizations. 35 The industry is strikingly unconcentrated;
less than 1 percent of farms have more than 500 head. The 1997 Census also shows the
limited presence of corporations: only 2.9 percent of all farms are corporations and just
18.7 percent of the cow inventory is held by corporations. 36 The operation of a cow-calf
operation is highly subject to nature, especially seasonal forces (Martin 1979). Although
there are regional differences that allow feedlots to operate year round, it is typical for
operators in the northern regions to breed cows in the fall, calve in the early spring, pasture
the animals during the summer, and wean and sell feeder calves in the fall. Compared to
the routine, factory processes in feedlot operations, running a cow-calf farm comprises
relatively unpredictable short stages (such as calving) that occur only once a year and require
on-the-spot decision making (prediction 9.3).
Like feedlots, the broiler industry has its roots in small farms. In fact, the industrialization
of chicken production preceded that in cattle feedlots. Prior to the 1930s, most chickens were
raised in relatively small flocks on family farms. During this period eggs, not meat, were
the primary products and most chickens were slaughtered in the spring. The reorganization
of the poultry industry began in the 1930s, and today virtually all broilers (2- to 3-pound
chickens) are produced by large, factory-corporate firms. 37 The introduction of antibiotics
and other drugs have allowed poultry to be bred, hatched, and grown in highly controlled
indoor environments in which disease, climate, food, water, and vitamins and other inputs
are regulated to the point where poultry barns are virtual assembly lines. At the various
stages of production, broiler companies employ wage laborers who undertake specialized
but routine tasks such as cleaning, feeding, and immunizing.
Modern broiler production begins in a company-owned breeding farm where eggs are
laid. The eggs are typically delivered to a hatchery firm, which more closely resembles
a hospital than a farm. After eggs are incubated and the chicks are hatched, the broiler
organization takes on an old form. Even with modern technology, the critical “grow-out”
period of a chicken's life is subject to random forces of disease and weather. Thus the
large companies routinely contract out growing services to small, family-based“growers”
and compensate them as partial residual claimants of the growth of the broilers in size and
value. 38 Growers feed and care for the chickens for a six-week period until they become
large enough for processing. Once chicks have matured, they return to the company for
processing in large assembly-line facilities that employ hundreds of workers.
In the last two decades, the hog industry has followed the path of the broiler industry. 39
Hog production is increasingly dominated by large, factory-corporate firms that breed and
farrow (birthing) pigs in confinement in huge indoor facilities. Like the broiler industry, the
hog companies routinely contract with small firms for the grow-out period and later do the
processing in assembly-line fashion in company-owned facilities with company labor. 40
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