Rooster / Getty creative
The United States is experiencing an unusual chicken meat shortage, in part due to high demand for popular poultry sandwiches, disruptions from the Covid 19 pandemic and closures caused by the February winter storm.
But now Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest processor of chicken, pork and beef, has revealed another, rather unusual reason for the shortage: Roosters have not lived up to expectations.
“We are changing a male with whom, frankly, we made a bad decision”admitted Donnie King, Tyson’s chief operating officer and president of the poultry group, during a call with analysts Monday.
The company had an “unexpected drop” in chick hatchings earlier this year due to the type of roosters it used, King said.
“This is a 50/50 split between the egg problem and strong demand,” King told reporters after the earnings call. “We are going to fix our supply.”
Tyson chose that type of rooster because of certain characteristics that improved the meat quality of his brood chickens, Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesperson, told CNN Business in an email. But at the same time, those roosters produced fewer eggs and lower chick hatch rates than Tyson used to.
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Chicks on a breeding farm. Photo: Getty Images.
Breeding companies provide chickens and roosters to chicken producers, who then raise the birds and hatch their eggs to produce meat. Tyson owns one of the largest breeding companies in the country, Cobb-Vantress.
Specifically, the reduction in chick hatches, coupled with production disruptions related to severe winter weather in February and the Covid pandemic, reduced Tyson’s chicken sales by 3.2% by volume in the quarter ending June. April 3, according to the company. Prices rose 7.8%, driving sales up 4.6% to $ 3.6 billion.
The other problem: labor
In addition to the unexpected problem of rooster “production”, Tyson faces a labor shortage and its plants are operating at approximately 80% capacity.
Absenteeism at Tyson meat plants is about 50% higher than before the coronavirus pandemic as workers struggle to find childcare, have better pay opportunities elsewhere, or prefer to rely on federal stimulus. King said.
“People just don’t come to work,” he said.
Coronavirus hit the sector hard
America’s meat companies were severely hit by the coronavirus last year, when thousands of food plant workers fell ill and hundreds died. The industry has started to recover but is still facing a shortage of staff.
“Right now it takes about six days to do the job of five,” King told analysts. “So it is affecting capacity and cost.”
As for the rooster problem, T yson is going back to using the breed he used before (which has not been disclosed), but the process will take at least a year, King said.
“That will help us supply,” he said, “the supply that, frankly, we need today.”
The company declined to share what will happen to the rejected roosters or how many will be replaced for “bad work.”