The Race to Produce a Slower-Growing Chicken

On this Arkansas chicken farm, when the public tour starts at dawn, the doors to the chicken barns are closed to keep out night-time predators. Then, the doors are thrown open and there’s a rush of feet and feathers as thousands of chickens run, flap, and jump to reach the pasture. Soon, visitors are standing in a sea of pecking, clucking birds.

The experience is meant to drive home a point: In an industry dominated by birds that have been engineered to be too top-heavy to walk—forget about jumping or flying—these athletic chickens are unique. The 800-acre wooded farm, owned by the new food company Cooks Venture, aims to fundamentally change the way chickens are farmed.

Cooks Venture is one of several players angling to revolutionize the chicken industry by combining slower-growing chicken genetics, unrestricted access to lush pasture, and attention to soil and the ecosystem. And it wants to do so at a scale much larger than others, meant to one day rival America’s top poultry companies.

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