Scientists and egg producers say more chickens could die if farmers move egg-laying hens from tiny cages with 10 or fewer birds to open pens than can hold dozens.

Scientists and egg producers warn that deadly skirmishes that start with feather-plucking and turn into bloody frenzies when a bird's pecking breaks a flockmate's skin will increase if those same aggressive hens are moved from small cages with five to 10 birds to open pens that can hold dozens.

The Humane Society of the United States has pushed for laws banning battery cages in which birds are packed tightly together. According to the Associated press, egg producers say that creates another problem: The white leghorn hens that lay most of the nation's eggs are territorial and prone to pecking attacks so fierce they're called “cannibalism.” The fights increase in big groups.

Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, a trade group that represents farms that produce about 90 percent of the nation's eggs, said there would be more pecking deaths in open cages and egg prices would go up because more workers would be needed to manage the birds.

To reduce fights, a Purdue University researcher has developed a breeding method that produces more peaceful chickens. William Muir says he believes his hens would live longer and lay more eggs because they waste less energy fighting. The white leghorns bred by Muir stand sedately wing to wing, staring back timidly from their cages at a Purdue research farm in northern Indiana. The easygoing egg-layers Muir has dubbed "Kinder Gentler Birds" don't need their beaks trimmed and blunted, another industry practice deplored by animal rights groups but which is intended to prevent pecking deaths.

Muir said it's hard to compare his and his colleagues' birds with the more aggressive ones that have become the poultry industry standard, but he believes their hens would live longer and lay more eggs because they waste less energy fighting.

Hendrix Genetics, a Dutch company that breeds the layers that produce about half the world's eggs, has begun using Muir's technique, breeding birds chosen for their personality as well as their ability to lay eggs.

The company had already been working on a breeding technique aimed at producing "more robust" animals with lower death rates, said Gerard Albers, director of Hendrix Genetics' BV Research and Technology Centre. But he said Muir's ideas gave it a boost as the European Union moves closer to its 2012 deadline for abolishing battery cages.

The company's work is moving faster now, he said, and the first of its gentler birds will be available in three years.

Source: Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times

CKE Restaurants to accept Apollo Management offer

After debating competing buyout offers, the parent company of the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's hamburger chains said it would be acquired by an affiliate of Apollo Management, spurning an earlier suitor, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In February, CKE announced that it would be acquired by Thomas H. Lee Partners for $619 million plus $309 million in debt but added that it would actively solicit other offers. Under the terms of the new agreement, CKE stockholders will receive $12.55 in cash for each share of CKE common stock they hold, representing a 41% premium to the company's unaffected closing share price on February 25, 2010, and a 14% premium over the consideration provided by the merger agreement previously entered into with affiliates of Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P.

CKE's board of directors has unanimously approved the merger agreement and has resolved to recommend that CKE shareholders adopt the agreement. The transaction is valued at approximately $1.0 billion, including the refinancing of the company's outstanding indebtedness. Affiliates of Morgan Stanley, Citi and RBC Capital Markets have provided an aggregate $700 million financing commitment in support of the transaction.

CKE's CEO, Andrew F. Puzder, said, "This is a very exciting and positive development for the Company, its shareholders, franchisees and employees. The Apollo transaction provides substantial added value for our shareholders and is a testament to our Board's diligent efforts on behalf of our shareholders. Our franchisees and employees will also benefit from Apollo's retail sector experience and widely acknowledged financial expertise. We believe this is an opportunity to partner with a premier private equity firm that has a proven record for fostering operational excellence, supporting growth and adding value in its portfolio companies. We view this as an exceptionally positive transaction on all fronts."

Peter P. Copses, a Senior Partner at Apollo, said, "We are extremely pleased to be acquiring CKE and look forward to working with its outstanding management team, employees and franchisees to continue to build the Company's market leading brands. We are firmly committed to CKE's continued growth as an industry-leading quick service restaurant operator."

Sources: Los Angeles Times, CKE Restaurants Inc.

Corn planting ahead of schedule, AccuWeather reports reports corn farmers across the Midwest are planting their crops ahead of schedule this season, sharply contrasting last year's late planting start.

"April and May were very wet in the prime corn-planting states last year," said Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler. "Planting was a month behind schedule, but near-perfect summer weather yielded a good crop last season." meteorologists suggest drier-than-normal early spring conditions helped farmers jump-start corn planting this year. The USDA released a report on April 20 that said 19 percent of the U.S. corn crop was planted as of Tuesday. Only 5 percent of the corn crop had been planted by mid-April 2009. Rain in the Midwest through the end of the week could slow the near-record planting pace, in which 20 percent of the crop was planted by mid- to late April.
An early start to corn planting doesn't necessarily mean an ideal final crop, and 2009's high yield despite a late start is a good example.

"The most important consideration for a good corn crop is the weather leading up to the harvest period," said Mohler.

Consistent rain through the summer, ideally three-quarters to one inch of rain per week, and hot days with highs in the 80s, and nighttime lows in the 60s, can lead to the best corn yield. The best weather for corn planting includes soil temperatures above 50 F and dry, warm conditions accompanied by slight rain. Stretches of summer heat can stress the crop, diminishing yields, and Chief Long-Range Meteorologist Joe Bastardi is calling for this summer to be very hot nationwide, characterized by bouts of mid- to late-summer heat.

Stretches of cool weather can also plague the crop because it cannot mature fully by the fall harvest period.

The prime corn planting season in the midwestern U.S. is between April 22 through May 13, with early planting beginning April 1. The corn harvesting period generally takes place October through November in the Midwest.

Source: AccuWeather