Dhanin Chearavanont (14): Breeding a better bird
Now that I had become president of Charoen Pokphand Group, it was time to tackle a problem that had stumped me since my days at the government-affiliated poultry cooperative -- how to breed chickens of a uniform size.
Processing chickens for meat was extremely labor-intensive, and we tried to automate the process by introducing plucking machines, but without success. The size of locally grown chickens was too variable for the machines to cope with.
In the U.S., however, major advances in chicken breeding had been made, and a variety known as broilers was becoming popular. They could be raised for meat in just eight weeks and, most importantly, were all of a similar size.
CP Group had a business relationship with Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase) for the settlement of imports and exports. The American bank was kind enough to introduce us to one of its affiliates, Arbor Acres, the largest broiler breeding company in the U.S.
At the time, the bank was headed by David Rockefeller, a grandson of oil tycoon John Rockefeller. David's older brother was Nelson Rockefeller, who would later become vice-president under U.S. President Gerald Ford. Nelson, an industrialist, had acquired Arbor Acres.
Around 1970, I had the chance to visit the U.S. to observe how broilers were bred and raised. But traveling to America would not be cheap. When I talked it over with my oldest brother, Jaran, he gave me a slap on the back and said, "Go and see!" Had he not said that, today's CP might not exist.
After sightseeing in New York, I went to Maine. The state was the primary location for raising the birds that produce broiler chicks. Because broilers were hybrids, they could not produce a second generation of chicks -- each new crop of broilers had to come from the breeder birds.
Contract production, in which a feed company buys chicks from a breeding company and hands them over to farmers to be raised, had become an established industry in the U.S. The feed company would provide feed and medicine for the birds, and buy the chickens back once they reached the desired size.
The variety of chick I saw grew to a weight of 1.5kg in eight weeks. Large numbers of them could be raised even in small spaces. In those days, Thai farmers were largely limited to raising 100 chickens per household. With these smaller broilers, a single household would be able to raise as many as 10,000 birds. They also consumed less feed than Thai chickens.
I decided to introduce broilers to Thailand. Arbor Acres was managed by Nelson's son, Rodman Rockefeller. Thanks to an introduction from David Rockefeller, I was able to meet him right away. Rodman agreed to partner with CP Group in Southeast Asia.
And so, we launched a joint venture in Thailand for raising chicks. Arbor Acres had a broiler business in India, and the first breeder birds for the Thai venture were brought over from there.
The Rockefellers later stepped away from Arbor Acres, but we maintained good relations with the family. Getting acquainted with the Rockefellers was the big reward of my trip to the U.S.
Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.