Boutique farmers say smaller is better for eating—and ethics.

In the 1920s it took more than three months and almost 12 pounds of feed for a chicken to grow to a sellable size, at the time about 2½ pounds.

Today, reports Bloomberg News, with genetic modifications and industrial farming methods, breeders can get a 6½-pound bird ready for slaughter in seven weeks, while it consumes a bit less feed. But that increase in efficiency has come at a cost: Most chickens are raised in cramped industrial facilities, they’ve been bred to have breasts so big that they can barely stand up straight, and the meat can be riddled with unappetizing white strips of fat or develop a hard, woody texture.

Now an emerging segment of the industry wants to reverse course, raising smaller birds more slowly—with both ethics and eating in mind. These producers say they can strike a better balance of animal welfare, efficiency, and the meat’s flavor and tenderness. They eschew the fast-growing genetic trait, selecting animals whose offspring are healthy, with robust immune systems and strong legs for jumping and running outside.

And they’re looking to ensure the animals achieve happiness in bird terms, meaning the ability to do things like perch, peck, and scratch in the dirt. “Hyperdemand and competitiveness for cheaper meat have driven down the quality of chicken,” says Matt Wadiak, founder of Cooks Venture, a company in Arkansas that sells a slower-growing breed of pasture-raised poultry. “The industry is on a runaway train.”

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