How Did Modern Chickens Get So Damn Big? | First We Feast

From 1948 to the present, selective breeding made your dinner what it is today.

Written by Janaki Jitchotvisut | October 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm | 1 Comment

The three chickens you see above were raised on the exact same diet, for the same length of time, and under the same conditions. The left-hand chicken is a breed from 1957. The middle chicken is a breed from 1978. The right-hand one is a breed from 2005. (Photo: Poultry Science via Vox)

You may not know it, but the popularity of chicken in the U.S. is partially due to its being one of the few proteins not rationed here during World War II. But chickens of today are so different from the chickens that existed just 50 years ago, your great-grandparents might not even recognize them.

As you can see in the image above (courtesy of Poultry Science, with breed dates added by Vox), chickens have gotten a whole lot bigger over a relatively short period of time.

To understand how they got this way, it’s important to have a little context for that graphic.

A Brief History of U.S. Commercial Chickens

Photo: North Carolina State University Library

Back in 1948, the biggest supermarket chain in the U.S. was called A&P, or the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. The chain held a “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest, inviting farmers all over the country to participate. The purpose, according to Modern Farmer, was “development of superior meat-type chickens.”

The winning chicken would have more meat all around, but the most important thing was more white meat. The winning chicken should also grow faster. With these criteria in mind, farmers all over set about their work.

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