A century ago, your typical chicken was really kind of scrawny. It took about four months to grow to a weight of 3 pounds. One result: Americans really didn't eat much chicken.
Today, the typical broiler, or meat chicken, turns feed into meat at a mind-boggling pace. Compared to the bird of yesteryear, it grows to twice the size in half the time. But some animal welfare advocates want the poultry industry to turn back the clock. Modern meat chickens are growing so fast, they say, that they are suffering.
William Muir, a poultry geneticist at Purdue University, says this transformation was mainly a triumph of chicken breeding. "This is what genetics does. We can actually make more from less," he says — more chicken meat from less feed, in less time.