The history of the commercial poultry industry in Georgia dates back to the pre-1920’s when layers especially bred for egg production were introduced to this state and showed capabilities for adding to the farm income. The broiler industry started shortly thereafter when a few North Georgia farmers attempted to go beyond the traditional barnyard flock and raised “batches” of fryers.
From a poultry health standpoint, poultry production was a hazardous business. Hatcheries, which sold chicks to farmers, and the new commercial poultry growers found losses to be heavy…too heavy for the concentrated development of poultry as a commercial enterprise.
It was in the 1920’s that Georgia first attempted poultry health improvement. The Georgia Department of Agriculture instituted a program of Pullorum testing, and poultry production spurted. But this progress was short lived, for soon the funds for this program were cut off.
The result was drastic. Georgia became a “dumping ground” for undesirable chickens from everywhere. In 1924, a group of Georgia hatchery men gathered, formed the Georgia Baby Chick Association (predecessor to the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association) and instituted a program of voluntary disease controls. Poultry production began to increase, slowly, and by 1935 an estimated 500,000 frying chickens were produced with commercial egg production still on the increase.
At the national level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture realized the plight of the poultry farmer and developed a program called the National Poultry Improvement Plan. It was designed to eradicate Pullorum, and to do away with some of the problems caused by differing terminology. This plan became operative July 1, 1935, and acceptance of the plan and participation in its functions was left to the individual states.
Georgia quickly chose to participate and a meeting of the Georgia Baby Chicks Association was called for the purpose of setting up an organization to comply with the National Poultry Improvement Plan program. The name of this organization was called the Poultry Breed Supervisory Board and was later chartered under the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association, Inc. This organization was designated as the official state testing agency and placed under contract with the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
To say the breakthrough in poultry health controls triggered the beginning of the commercial poultry industry in Georgia would be to overstate the case, for many things combined in the late 1930’s to promote the interest in poultry production. Hall County farmers, destitute from dwindling cotton income, needed a new source of cash. They could enter the poultry business with little capital, and innovative feed dealers and businessmen found ways to promote production. The industry grew steadily, and built on a solid foundation.
World War II, with its meat and egg shortages, gave it instant impetus. In 1940, broiler production in North Georgia doubled to the 3.5-million level, and by 1945, Georgia’s broiler production had zoomed to 29.5-million broilers with an annual cash value of $24,460,000. Though growth was tremendous, Georgia’s commercial egg industry was hampered somewhat during the war years because of a lack of dehydrating facilities necessary for overseas shipment of eggs.
The Improvement Association struggled to keep up with this mammoth growth, but farsighted industry and governmental leaders backed the program to see that every breeder hen was tested as the industry grew…to see that no disease got hold, or out of hand. In this light, it is significant that the Georgia poultry industry prospered and grew where comparable industries in other areas failed.
The broiler industry took a setback immediately after the war, in 1946, and some dire predictions were made. It was only a lull. By 1950, production had reached 62.9-million and, climactically, the following year Georgia became the number one broiler producing state in the nation.
By 1956, broilers brought in enough income to dethrone King Cotton as Georgia’s number one farm income producer, and the industry has continued a steady growth every year since. In 1968, Georgia produced 469-million broilers.
It is significant that a very high health level has been maintained for Georgia poultry, and this can be attributed to an enlightened working relationship between industry and government. Without the enforcement powers of government, even the smallest pocket of infestation could have developed into a major problem area. And without the foresighted leadership of many poultrymen, who have given of their time to serve without pay on the board and committees of the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association, the program could never have had the solid backing necessary to make it work.