In 1995, Georgia became the first state in history to produce more than 5 billion pounds of chicken in one year.
"That's a lot of meat," said Stan Savage, a poultry scientist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "Georgia farmers are not only producing more birds every year, but they're producing larger birds for a growing market."
Demand for chicken meat has grown 3 percent to 5 percent every year for the past 15 to 20 years.
Savage figures that by the year 2000, Georgia farmers will easily produce 6 billion pounds of chicken meat annually. He attributes part of that growth to chicken's value.
"Chicken is the most economical meat per pound," he said. "Consumers can get either whole birds or parts at various levels of processing."
Consumer demand for processed parts is on the rise, too. Boneless, skinless chicken pieces make meal preparation quicker and easier. That's what shoppers want more of -- meats that make their lives easier.
"If the processor plans to cut up the chicken, it has to be larger," Savage said. "Processors are running a lot of five- and six-pound birds through the line."
Georgia poultry firms now process 21 million chickens every week. Savage said several plants are expanding either processing facilities or their production on the farm.
"Georgia's real advantage over other chicken-producing states like Arkansas and Alabama is that we've just got more room to expand," Savage said.
Broiler houses are popping up all over south Georgia to supply chickens to processing plants. "We're expanding away from the traditional poultry- producing areas in north Georgia, particularly around Gainesville," he said.
With more and more chickens comes a natural by-product: litter.
For every pound of meat Georgia farmers grow, Savage said, they have to contend with a half-pound of litter.
"Truly, there's 2.5 billion pounds of litter produced every year that must be dealt with," he said.
But row-crop and livestock farmers call it black gold. It makes excellent fertilizer for cotton, corn, grasses and small grains. "It's great on any crop that requires a lot of nitrogen," Savage said.
Georgia farmers raise chickens in 95 counties. In broiler income alone, Georgia farmers topped $1.7 billion in 1995, the latest year for which figures are available.
Overall poultry income made up nearly one-third of Georgia's total agricultural income.