History of the Poultry Industry in Australia

History of the Poultry Industry in Australia

Here in Australia, we know that chicken meat has outgrown any other industry. Today chicken meat consumption far exceeds that of any other meat, including beef and lamb combined. Industry sources estimate three million chickens were produced for meat in Australia in 1950-1951, compared with around 653 million in 2016-2017.



Most chicken production was in the hands of backyard producers and larger family operations, who tended to produce chickens as an offshoot to egg production, processing spent laying hens or surplus cockerels from the egg industry, often from the family premises. The late 1950s saw significant changes occurring in the industry. While early chicken meat production had been based on spent laying hens and crossbred cockerels, the industry quickly recognised the need to develop an Australian chicken meat breed and the first such strain to be developed was released in 1959. Chicken processing became faster and more efficient as continuous chain processing systems were introduced, leading to a rapid drop in the price consumers paid for chicken.


Chicken meat consumption increased five-fold. The integrator emerged in the industry, they owned chicken breeding and hatching operations, feed mills, and chicken processing plants and owned or contracted out the growing of chickens from day-old to slaughter weight to contract farmers. This continues to be a successful model utilised in the industry today. Improvements in the genetic material available, refinement of the nutrition and husbandry of meat chickens, and improvements in processing technologies allowed production to surge forward. By 1970 per capita consumption of chicken had increased to 9.8kg. Despite this, in the 60s the industry experienced oversupply issues, price wars and significant instability associated with this.


In this period production more than double. The period of 1978-1980, was one of a massive expansion of the Australian poultry industry. Contract shedding in New South Wales alone increased by 40 percent. Australian production of chicken increased by 38 percent. Over this decade, per capita chicken consumption almost doubles, reaching 19kg.


Throughout this decade production and consumption of chicken continue to grow. The market for chicken meat products started to move from one of predominately frozen whole chicken to fresh products, and from whole fresh chicken to fresh chicken pieces and fresh ready to cook items. The range of chicken products available grew increasing the convenience and versatility of the product offering.


By 1990 Australians were consuming 23.7kg of chicken each per annum. The industry recognised Australian breeders were unable to keep pace with the generic progress being made by overseas breeding companies which resulted in the prior ban on importation of genetic material being lifted and new breeding strains entering the market. In this period new poultry housing systems were implements and in 1998 the first commercial-scale free range chicken brand was launched.


The first half-decade of the new millennium saw the Australian chicken meat industry hit hard by drought. The drought brought a shortage of feed grains and consequent high grain prices led to a difficult few years for the industry and chicken price increases. By the end of 2006, chicken meat had overtaken beef as Australian consumer’s favorite meat.


At the beginning of the decade consumption of chicken meat overtook that of the red meats combined. Consumption in 2016 and 2017 was fueled by historically very high prices for beef and veal and lamb globally with the assistance of supermarkets heavy marketing of barbecue chicken priced at around $8.00. With a demand for further differentiated products resulted in the emergence of new products and third-party assurance programs such as the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme in which a large proportion of the industry participated. In this period there was significant growth in the free-range sector from a market share of less than 1 percent in 1998 to almost 20 percent two decades later.


Australian Chicken Meat Federation