A broiler is a type of chicken or turkey raised specifically for meat production. Modern commercial broilers—largely Cornish-Rocks—are specially bred for meat production and grow much faster than egg breeds. Both male and female broiler turkeys are slaughtered for their meat.
Before the development of modern meat breeds, broilers consisted mostly of young male chickens (cockerels). The males were slaughtered for meat and the females (pullets) were kept for egg production. Compared to today, this made chicken meat scarce and expensive compared to eggs, and chicken was a luxury meat. The development of special broiler breeds decoupled the supply of broilers from the demand for eggs. This, along with advances in nutrition and incubation that allowed broilers to be raised year-round, allowed chicken to become a low-cost meat.
Broilers are often called "Rock-Cornish," referring to the adoption of a cross between a White Cornish male and a Barred Rock female. This hybrid was introduced in the 1930s and became dominant in the 1960s. The original cross was plagued by problems of low fertility, slow growth, and disease susceptibility, and modern broilers have gradually become very different from the Cornish x Rock hybrid.
Modern broilers are typically a third generation offspring (an F2 hybrid). The broiler's four grandparents come from four different strains, two of which produce the male parent line and two of which provide the female parent line, which are in turn mated to provide the broilers. The male lines and female lines are not bred for the same traits; for example, the female line needs to be able to lay as many eggs as possible, since the number of eggs laid per hen influences the cost of broiler eggs and hence broiler chicks. Egg-laying ability is less important in the male line, while rooster fertility is very important.
The broiler is raised in a highly controlled environment along with thousands of other broiler chicks. It is given unrestricted access to a special diet of high protein feed delivered via an automated feeding system. This is combined with artificial lighting conditions to stimulate growth and thus the desired body weight is achieved in 4 - 8 weeks, depending on the approximate body weight required by the processing plant. After processing, the poultry is delivered as fresh or frozen chicken to the stores and supermarkets.
Broiler chickens are also popular in small family farms in rural communities, where a family will raise a small flock of broilers.
The term "broiler" is widely known in North America and Australia but not elsewhere in the English speaking world. The term "broiler chicken" is very widely used in India, as it was in the former German Democratic Republic and still nowadays in some eastern parts of Germany. The term is also used in the Balkans.
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