Former Butterball COO Joe Nalley spoke with The National Provisioner editor-in-chief Andy Hanacek as he retires after 46 years about a variety of topics in the industry. Watch all videos here. In the first part of the series, Nalley discusses how the size of the animal coming into market has increased, how equipment had to change to accommodate that, and how they handled consumer concerns about bigger animals.

Andy Hanacek: Joe, thanks for joining me for this series of questions and answers as you ride off into retirement after 46 years in the industry. I appreciate your time. The first topic I wanted to talk to you about is cost competitiveness in the protein industry. How has the industry gotten better at becoming cost competitive over time that you’ve seen in the industry itself?

Joe Nalley: I think one of the most impressive things—and I don’t know how much it is talked about—is the size of the animal coming into market. When I first started in the industry, I was in the hog business, and a market-size hog was considered to be about 180 to 200 pounds. Now, they are very commonly over 300 pounds coming in. Cattle were coming in live-weight at 700 pounds. Now, my understanding is—and I haven’t been on the cattle size in a while—[the live-weight] is 1,300 to 1,400 pounds, maybe even more. Turkeys were 28 pounds, and now regularly they are over 50 pounds. Chicken has gone the same direction. You are moving about 80 percent more weight through with animals that size, and the more amazing thing is [the animals] are younger.  They are coming into market at a younger age, and they have less fat, less waste, leaner, and their feet conversion is about 30 percent better. It’s just amazing what the live side of the industry has done on essentially all proteins.

Hanacek: That’s created some challenges on the equipment side over the many years, right? You’ve had to make in some instances equipment that can handle these larger birds or hogs or whatever it may be, right?

Nalley: No question that has required some changes, although as usual you can always do more than you think you can. Since Butterball has been the final step in my career, we were talking about taking super tom turkeys up to 50 pounds, and everybody said, “you can’t do that. They are too big. They won’t fit here. They won’t do that.” But you know what, with some adjustments here and there, you can make it work.

Hanacek: Sometimes too on the consumer side—and I know you weren’t consumer affairs kind of person necessarily—that bigger animal has been mislabeled in some ways as almost too big. What has the industry done right to grow the animals out the right way?

Nalley: I think one of the bigger concerns about the bigger animals was that typically more fat and not as much lean, and that has been addressed through feeding regimes and genetics and proper management. It’s an interesting point you make, because piece size and serving size has probably decreased through the years as opposed to going bigger, particularly with smaller families than we may have seen 46 years ago. It’s a little bit of a change, but the industry has been able to address that, and I think the industry listens to the consumer probably more today than ever.

Check out the rest of our video series with former Butterball COO Joe Nalley!