How are meat, poultry, chicken prices calculated?

Published 7:10 pm Saturday, December 17, 2016

The meat section at any grocery store can be a simple study of one phase of agriculture.

Just compare the price of chicken, pork and beef and then pose the question, “How come?”

Remembering to keep it simple, the retail price differences among fresh chicken, pork and beef can be assigned to two causes — time and FCR (feed conversion rate.)

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Granted, there are a bunch of other factors such as labor, facilities, transportation, finance, etc., but those can be pretty much equalized by making them functions of time.

Time in this instance is actually the lifespan of the animal that becomes the product.

The processed bird before you at the store as a whole broiler or packages of its parts was six weeks old and weighed about six pounds when slaughtered.

And it ate two pounds of feed for each pound of live weight it gained, a FCR of 2.0.

Plus the bird had 160 brothers and sisters from the same momma hatched the same year and they all grew that fast on the same diet.

Sliding over to the pork section, the prices are higher so is its time and FCR.

There’s an old country saying that we can “use every part of a hog but the squeal.”

Personally, I don’t eat chitterlings, i.e. “chittlins,” and pig feet, but they are there if you like them.

The market hog converted to pork chops, loin roasts and hams was a tad less than six months old at slaughter.

Its FCR was around 3.5, meaning it ate about three and a half pounds of feed for every pound gained during its five to six months of living and growing to 250 pounds.

The hog farmer’s goal is for each mother sow to raise two litters of eight piglets per year.

Both time and FCR increase along with size when it comes to beef. Cattle are rather slow maturing and they are ruminants, requiring different diets than chickens and hogs.

There is also more genetic variation among cattle herds, resulting in less predictable and less uniform feeding results compared to those of chickens and hogs.

Any so-called average age of cattle at slaughter is indeed only an average.  I’ll go with 20 months old and 1,200 pounds live weight, knowing full well and having eye-witnessed there are plenty of steers older and heavier in west Texas feedlots.

Unlike broiler houses and hog pens, the animals in beef feedlots are not sent to slaughter all on the same day.

Human evaluators move among the hundred or so head in each lot and decide which ones are ready for slaughter.

This live evaluation is to, hopefully, select the individuals with the desired carcass yields.

As for beef FCR, it varies as much as age.

A conversion rate of six pounds of feed to one pound of steer would make any cowboy or feedlot manager proud, but it happens with the good ones.

Seven pounds is more likely and higher ones cut way into the profit.
Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.