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June 20, 2024
Poultry & Livestock Review Africa

Flexible poultry processing increases yields

Poultry processors worldwide are operating under challenging market conditions with margins being squeezed ever tighter. The ability of a solution in a processing line to automatically adjust to various bird breeds and weights adds significant value and can sway profits considerably.


To remain competitive and profitable, poultry processors must ensure that they achieve optimum process efficiency to increase their yield wherever possible. One such process improvement which can aid in this endeavour relates to wing cutting which, when operating smoothly, offers reduced processing times while increasing the cut yield.

Continued rising popularity of poultry meat

The relatively low pricing of poultry products compared to other meats – due, in part, to the broiler industry being able to attain tremendous productivity and efficiency over the years, together with the absence of faith-related obstacles, as well as the low-fat content and other health benefits of poultry meat – explains its continued and rising demand. From this perspective, the long-term profitability of the poultry industry looks very positive.

Volatile poultry product prices affect profit margin of processors

However, although the demand and popularity of poultry meat is expected to grow globally over the coming years, Covid-19 lockdown measures have led to changes in demand patterns, with a notable shift away from the food service and hospitality sector to the retail and online market. Such changes and the general uncertainty about which markets will recover and when, have resulted in highly volatile poultry product prices. This, in turn, has negatively impacted the operating margins of poultry processors.

Processing various breeds and sizes

A significant trend adding to the challenges for poultry processors, seen particularly in Western Europe, is the variation in breeds and weights within and between flocks, combined with a growing average bird weight. The latter is also seen a lot in North America.

Highly efficient genetic selection for economically-beneficial and important traits, like body weight, growth rate, feed efficiency, and those associated with carcass-processing characteristics, have been instrumental in the increasing productivity and efficiency of the broiler industry. This has meant, however, that poultry processors are under increasing pressure to be flexible in both variable input products (breed and weight ranges) as well as output products.

The precise anatomical cut between the two joints achieved by Meyn’s wing cutter means maximum back meat and minimal breast meat. Photo: Meyn  

The precise anatomical cut between the two joints achieved by Meyn’s wing cutter means maximum back meat and minimal breast meat. Photo: Meyn

The average market weight has increased

The average live weight of meat broilers is increasing year-on-year and, according to an Oxford Animal report: Impact of Genetics and Breeding on Broiler Production Performance, breeding companies have used population genetics through quantitative selection practices since the 1940s to improve productivity and efficiency in the poultry industry today (Hunton, 2006).

Data from 2000 to 2015 indicates that the average market weight has increased from 2.3 to 2.8kg with a steady increase expected to continue. Interestingly, in 1957, a 42-day-old broiler weighed 586g with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 2.8, while today, a broiler of the same age weighs 2.0kg with an FCR of under 1.70 (Zuidhof and others, 2014).

Maximising yield for poultry processors

This improvement in production can only be truly realised if poultry processors can maximise yield and ensure that their processing machinery can cater for various bird weights, from the smallest to the largest birds, entering the processing line at any time. Processing big birds weighing up to 4.3kg without disrupting the flow of production can be challenging.

“An increasing number of poultry processors handle both types of birds on the same day and on the same processing lines.”

Another trend impacting the poultry processing sector is the growing market share of concept birds – an alternative to regular birds – particularly in Western Europe. An increasing number of poultry processors handle both types of birds on the same day and on the same processing lines. The difference in shape and size between these birds often requires processors to make adjustments to their processing systems to achieve the best results.

Precision adjustment for each individual bird

Over the last 20 or 30 years, the emphasis of breeding companies has been on breast meat yield and therefore eviscerated yield has also increased considerably. This was in response to changes in consumer preferences for further processed items and greater demands from the food service sector. The Oxford Academic report notes that in 1962, 83% of broilers in the US were marketed as whole carcass, 15% as cut-up birds or pieces and 2% as further processed value-added items. By 2009, only 12% of broilers were marketed as whole birds, 42% as cut-up birds or pieces and 46% as further processed products. This trend has continued.

Greatest accuracy of anatomical cuts

A machine that offers the greatest accuracy of anatomical cuts will therefore have a tremendous impact on the yield of deboned chicken breast fillets. When a precise anatomical cut between the two joints is achieved, there will be almost no pieces of wing joint on the griller. When required, the cut can include the maximum amount of back meat while minimising the amount of breast meat. A precise wing cut can result in more than 5g net breast meat yield.

Precision wing cutter

In close cooperation with various poultry processors and to bring a solution to market that can handle birds of varying sizes – and which results in the maximum yield possible – Meyn set out to redesign its original wing cutter. The result is the next generation Meyn self-adjusting Wing Cutter High Yield Pro featuring dual circular knives with stainless-steel motors fitted within a spring coil suspension. This improved design, which is suitable for grillers of up to 4.3kg grill weight, enables the module to self-adjust to a bird weight differentiation of up to 1.5kg in one setting, even while running at line speeds of up to 7,500 birds per hour (15,000 birds per hour when running a double line).

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For the modern, high-speed poultry processor, a processing line that runs smoothly, does not require adjustments and therefore downtime and which requires minimal attention from the processor, can make all the difference. Cutting precisely between the two joints, Meyn’s wing cutter leaves almost no wing joint on the griller and results in increased yield. The poultry sector has made huge strides in improving production, but for a poultry processor to maximise yields and returns, a high quality precision tool is required.

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