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Henry Saglio; his breeding knowhow changed poultry industry

Henry Saglio didn't put a chicken in every pot -- but he came close. The Connecticut poultry breeder was the creator of the plump, juicy, white-feathered broiler familiar to most diners.

 

"I've dedicated my life to making chicken affordable to poor people," Mr. Saglio said in a 1987 Associated Press article.

"He was a very sharp guy who worked with the Rockefellers and traveled internationally, even though he only had an eighth-grade education," Janet Saglio, of Newton, said of her 92-year-old father, who died Saturday in Glastonbury, Conn.

Mr. Saglio did not set out to change eating habits. He only wanted to get out of the sun.

"I was not too keen on dirt farming," he said in 1987. "The sun was too hot. I wanted to do something under cover."

So, in 1926, at age 14, he began raising chickens in discarded piano crates on the Glastonbury farm of his parents, who were Italian immigrants.

At the time, the most common broiler chicken was an expensive, scrawny bird with mostly dark meat and red and gray feathers, more apt to be seen on a rich man's plate than a poor man's.

White-feathered chickens were considered inferior because the leghorn, the most common white bird, was a poor breed for meat.

In 1937, a meat processor in Hartford asked Mr. Saglio to try to breed a chicken without red feathers, which stained the meat during kosher processing.

Mr. Saglio began the experiments that led to the white-meat, white-feathered chicken he called the Arbor Acres White Plymouth Rock, naming the breed after the family farm.

The chicken industry did not beat a path to his door.

"Habit is habit," Mr. Saglio said in 1987. His biggest challenge was to get the food industry interested in the product.

Fate intervened in the form of the A&P grocery store chain and its Chicken of Tomorrow contest, in search of a superior chicken for the retail industry. The Arbor Acres White Plymouth Rock created a flutter of excitement in the poultry industry.

Campbell's began using the birds in its soups, "because they processed easier and were better looking," said Mr. Saglio.

By the 1960s nearly all birds sold as broilers had white plumage, and three out of four birds sold were descended from Mr. Saglio's breed stock.

From Arbor Acres, he sold chickens to processors such as Perdue, Cookin' Good, and Foster Farms. It soon became an international operation.

Mr. Saglio traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America to promote chicken breeding as a cost-effective form of development. He often traveled under the auspices of the International Basic Economy Corp., funded by the Rockefellers to promote "basic economies" in developing countries.

"He was extremely dyslexic, that's why he left school in the eighth grade," his son Robert, of Watch Hill, R.I., said yesterday. "As a result, he was not much of a public speaker. He was very low-key, but he loved to have people back to the farm in Connecticut and cook for them. He was an excellent cook."

Agricultural specialists came to visit Mr. Saglio, not only for his advice on chickens, but for his osso buco and blueberry pancakes.

Mr. Saglio, who had homes in Watch Hill, Glastonbury, , and Marathon, Fla., retired in 1984 when he sold the family farm in Connecticut, but he soon returned to the business to develop Avian Farms International with his son. When he was 87, he founded Pureline Genetics, an antibiotic-free poultry breeding company .

"He was very sharp and was always looking where the market was going," said his daughter.

In 1977 he was inducted in the Poultry Hall of Fame. At that ceremony Mr. Saglio was described as a "practical poultryman whose vision earned him worldwide respect and acclaim without sacrificing the common touch."

He was, according to the citation, the "individual most responsible for the direction taken by the broiler industry."

Besides his son and daughter, he leaves a brother, Hugo of Bloomfield, Conn.; a sister, Frances Dogan of Falls Church, Va.; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday in First Congregational Church in Glastonbury.

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