Economy impacts Tyson Cornish hen production

by Bryan Salvage
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SPRINGDALE, ARK. — Local Cornish hen growers in the Prairie Grove region for Tyson Foods have less to do at present as slumping consumer demand and a sluggish economy prompted production cuts in Cornish hens, according to the Northwest Arkansas News. One grower, who has grown Cornish hens for 30 years, said it’s as slow as he can remember with respect to the number of flocks he gets per year. In a normal growing year, he would raise eight flocks, now he’s hoping to get six.

Cornish game hens are a specialty market with the finished bird weighing 2 pounds ready-to-cook. The grower thinks during these tough economic times consumers may opt for a 6-pound broiler. At local grocery stores in the region, the 2-pound bird recently sold for an average price of $3.49. A twin pack of slightly larger birds costs $7.55, the N.A.N. article relayed.

Cornish hens cost the grower and integrator more to raise. They are slow growing and their feed contains higher protein content throughout the growing cycle. Requiring warmer houses, Cornish hens cost growers more in utilities.

The sluggish economy has dampened Cornish hen sales both domestically and internationally, said Gary Mickelson, Tyson spokesman. As a result, Tyson reduced production at its Randall Road processing plant in Springdale to balance supply with demand. Mr. Mickelson said Tyson is hopeful business will pick up through the holiday season and as the economy improves.

Processing a little more than 1 million Cornish game hens a week for domestic and international retail and foodservice, Tyson Foods has about two-thirds of the Cornish hen market share nationwide, he added. Perdue Farms is the second-largest supplier of Cornish game hens.

Meat&Poultry relayed in its October 2008 issue that Tyson Foods initially began processing poultry when Don Tyson, son of company founder John Tyson, opened the company’s Randall Road plant in Springdale on Aug. 18, 1958. At the time, the 90,766 square-foot facility produced ice-packed, whole chickens, processed 1,800 birds an hour and employed about 100 people. The plant now spans 117,210 square feet, employs 460 employees, and in October 2008 processed 1.3 million Cornish Game hens and bagged wogs (birds without giblets) a week for domestic and international retail and foodservice customers.

According to U.S.D.A. regulations, a Rock Cornish game hen, or Cornish game hen, is a young, immature chicken (usually five to six weeks of age), weighing not more than 2 pounds in ready-to-cook weight, which was prepared from a Cornish chicken or the progeny of a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken.

Each bird is intended as an individual serving, said Richard L. Lobb, director of communications, National Chicken Council, Washington D.C.

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