Popular Science

Meet the man fighting to save our country's rarest chickens

Big Chicken.
chickens on farm

Most chickens in the United States all come from the same breed. But not at Frank Rees's farm.


After WWII, demand for chicken in the United States soared. A three-year breeding contest sought the "Chicken of Tomorrow," aiming to meet the changing appetites of post-war America, and created the modern chicken that now dominates the commercial market. The contest nearly eliminated purebred chickens that previously dominated farmyards. But in one corner of Kansas, one man is keeping their legacy alive. The following is an excerpt from Maryn McKenna's Big Chicken.

MARQUETTE, KANSAS, population about 640, is a place where no one ends up by accident. It lies almost dead center in the state, surrounded by flat plains, gentle hills, and trees that were planted 100 years ago to break the biting wind that whips across the grasses. No one drives through; Denver is six hours to the west and Kansas City three hours east, but Interstate 70, which links them, lies 30 miles north. No one can ride through either—the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads bracket it north and south—and no one who cared to try would float far on the nearby Smoky Hill River, so oxbowed it looks like a toddler’s scribble. To get to Marquette requires intention, and to get to Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, which lies just outside it, requires daylight and a paper map and the trust of a child in a

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