Poultry in Motion
Before 1900, poultry growing in Arkansas was generally regarded as a sideline farming activity. Flocks scratched in thebarnyard, dining on table scraps and corn. There was little thought of breeding for superior birds.
In Northwest Arkansas in the early 1900s, some farmers raised chickens for market, especially during the winter when the major fruit and vegetable crops were not in season. In 1914, a small poultry processing firm, the first in the region, opened in Fayetteville. From there, birds were shipped out on the Frisco railroad. About that time, researchers at the University of Arkansas began testing ways to grow bigger, better chickens.
Due to drought and disease, the fruit industry in Northwest Arkansas declined in the late 1920s. Many farmers turned to commercial poultry growing, because the business fit in well with the region: it was suited to small farms; it was not dependent on soil fertility, terrain, or climate, and it provided work for the whole family. Early chicken houses were usually small wooden buildings equipped with a brooder stove, water fountains, feed, and a thermometer. They held about 500 birds.
Two major poultry producers started out in Springdale as truckers hauling live chickens to market in Kansas City and St. Louis: C. L. George in 1929, and John Tyson in 1931. As the industry began to prove itself, more farmers were attracted to raising chickens on a large scale, and bankers became more than willing to extend them credit. Feed dealers and processors offered annual contracts to farmers for feed, chicks, medicine, and other supplies. Broiler (young chicken) production in Northwest Arkansas soon began to spiral upward. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, important poultry production centers also developed in northeast Arkansas around Batesville, in the Arkansas River Valley around Russellville, and in southwest Arkansas around DeQueen.
Increasingly, poultry operations throughout the state became more advanced. Today the poultry industry is an agribusiness of global proportions. Arkansas poultry companies consistently rank among the top in the nation, and the state is a leader in the production of broilers, turkeys, and table eggs. Arkansas is a major educational center for poultry science. Thousands of jobs, both on farms and in town, are tied directly to the success of the poultry industry.