Kentucky's slumping horse industry appears on pace to be overtaken by poultry farming as the king of the state's agricultural sector, economists said Dec. 3.

In a state where horses are a mainstay of the cultural and economic lifeblood, the new top perch for chickens in the pecking order of Kentucky agriculture once seemed unlikely.

But the equine sector has been battered by deep recession, and the poultry industry has enjoyed years of steady growth. As a result, University of Kentucky agricultural economist Lee Meyer, MS, PhD, predicted that receipts from the poultry sector this year would outpace those from the horse industry by about $180 million.

Meyer said that poultry production, concentrated in western Kentucky, is expected to generate about $930 million in receipts this year. The equine sector is projected to generate about $750 million this year, down from a 2007 figure that exceeded $1.1 billion, he added.

That projection was seen by former Gov. Brereton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud, as further proof that the state's horse industry is in decline and needs a boost.

"You can go anyplace around the world and tell people you're from Kentucky, and the first thing they want to talk about is the Kentucky Derby and the Thoroughbred industry," he said. "We risk losing that if everybody refuses to pay attention."

Jones supports expanding gambling at Kentucky's horse racing tracks. A measure to allow video slot machines at tracks passed the Kentucky House but died in a Senate committee during this year's special session.

Thoroughbred sales and breeding stud fees are the two main