Hayden Farms, located outside of Owensboro, Ky., is opening its doors, putting in the country’s first poultry house viewing room last year. The glass windows help pull back the curtains on how chickens are actually raised.
“Our whole goal behind this was education,” said Danielle Hayden, one of the owner/operator of Hayden Farms. “It was important for us to give a glass walls effect to our farm, and say ‘hey, we have nothing to hide, come on in, see this, and we’re going to talk about it with you.’”
From education, to pushing production, diversity drives their Kentucky operation.
“Since we do beef and broiler chickens, we kind of have that benefit in our poultry market stays the same, so it’s allowed us to roll with the tides of the beef side of our operation,” she said.
Haydens put a focus on poultry last year, building four new barns. In 2019, their focus is turning to beefing up the cattle side of their operation, with new fencing, improving grazing conditions, etc.
For cattle producers in the Midwest, many are still recovering from a rocky winter.
“Calving was really rough,” said Alex Nuelle, a cattle producer in Lafayette County, Mo. “It made you not even want to own heifers.”
The Nuelles faced historic losses from such a brutal winter, as calving season proved to be one for the record books.
“I think we lost probably 40 to 45 calves out of 200 heifers,” he said. “It wasn’t a very good, profitable winter.”
Profits aren’t only pinched by calve losses, but also market prices waning for the cattle they sell, forcing this young producer to weigh other options.
“I’m hoping to go elsewhere besides farming,” he said. “I’m pushing the bail wrapper, we got a mobile seed treater, start selling more seed,” he said.
Not every producer is looking to expand, but nationally, protein supplies are growing.
“We're looking at increased production on the total protein with about a 2% increase in in beef production and nearly a 4% increase in pork production,” said John Nalivka, owner of Sterling Marketing Group who puts out the Sterling Profit Tracker each week.
Nalivka said Sterling Marketing projects protein consumption per capita to hit 221 pounds this year, which is slightly higher than last year, and just misses the record of 221.9 pounds hit in 2004.
“We're going into what’s seasonally the strongest demand part of the year, so we go into the grilling season this summer, but beef demand has been very, very good,” he said.
As questions surround if beef demand can hold, pork production is also on the rise.
“This will be our fifth consecutive year of record pork production, and this year pork production in the U.S. will actually exceed beef production,” he said.
Much of the consumption hinges on the need for exports. Major companies like Tyson and McDonald's are already warning consumers meat prices could climb, as African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to claim China’s hog herd.
“They're already buying an extraordinary large amount of beef from Australia and New Zealand,” said Nalivka. “That's why we're not seeing beef imports from Australia come in here.”
While ASF remains a big question mark, domestic diets are also changing, with more consumers demanding protein.
“What's really nice to see is that people are not so tied into their life of, low fat, fat free, sugar free, and they're really thinking about the quality of the foods that they're eating and getting better quality fats and better-quality proteins,” said Leah McGrath, a registered dietician.
McGrath said much of those purchasing decisions aren’t just driven by health results, but also taste. The generational change of eating habits is a trend Hayden is also seeing.
“Now, my generation, who are becoming the moms, we do yoga and we eat steak, because we want that high protein, we’re all these trendy diets that are healthy fats, which is a lot more beef,” said Hayden.
The trend is serving up opportunity for protein producers across the country, as the unofficial kickoff to grilling season is now underway.