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Amo Houghton

Hatching hope for farmers : the new pecking order

AS HE TRUDGED through the mud of poultry grower Arthur Holley's Parsonsburg farm last week, Rep. Wayne T. Gil-chrest symbolically crossed into new territory. He and several other members of Congress had journeyed from Washington to take a closer look at something that until recently had gone largely unnoticed -- the demotion of the chicken farmer from ruler of his roost to land-owning serf.

In doing so, Gilchrest, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, and the others joined a small but growing movement that hopes to change the relationship between the roughly 30,000 U.S. chicken growers and the large corporations that process and market poultry.

Escorted by activists...