KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI. — In 1940 it took the poultry industry (probably just called chicken farmers back then) an average of 12 weeks to produce a full-grown chicken.
Today, says the National Broiler Council (whose name reflects the violent end it expects the chickens its members raise to meet), it takes only six weeks.
This is an astonishing achievement, and proves the National Broiler Council should be put in charge of not only our chickens but also our children.
I have reared both chickens and children, and it's clear that kids simply take too long. If the council could replicate its chicken-growing speed-up on our kids, the whole country would be better off.
At least 18 years -- and sometimes longer -- is required before a child is ready to be sent to market. By contrast, I've raised chickens from chick to menu entree without even using up a whole boyhood summer. And, as a rule, chickens -- even dead ones -- are better company than children at Sunday dinner.
Imagine the benefits of being able to produce a full-grown child in nine years instead of 18.
First, parents could enjoy the empty nest when they still had enough energy to do something on a Saturday night besides sit home and breathe heavily -- not from passion but from exhaustion.
By the way, as I picture full-grown kids by age nine, I don't intend for all accompanying childhood traumas to be compressed into half the time. For instance, surely the National Broiler Council people -- clever folks who can turn a chicken into 93 percent breastmeat -- could figure out how to let kids mature physically without the hormonal rages that usually begin in their teen years.
Which means parents could let the kids go at age nine and make them figure out sex for themselves when they get to it. After all, they'd be grown up.
Same with driving. We wouldn't have to teach them. Or have our car insurance rates blast through the ceiling. Or wait up at night ++ wondering if they've driven our car into some ditch. No, we'd keep the driving age what it is now. So our kids would be grown and out of the house several years before they'd be able to get their license.
Drinking would be treated similarly. We'd keep the current drinking age. That way we could send kids off to college at age nine or 10 and have much less worry about them spending all our money on beer. An average 10-year-old wants Cherry Coke, not a Bud.
There would, of course, be a few drawbacks to this fast-forward growth plan. Clothes, for instance, which children outgrow now in a matter of weeks, would last barely a few days. And the youngsters' growth spurts would cause our grocery bills to double and then double again, probably, even faster than they do now when we have teen-agers in the house.
But we could handle such disadvantages because, with only a nine-year commitment, we could see the end in sight. ''It's not so bad,'' we could tell ourselves. ''They'll soon be gone. We better enjoy them while we can.''
You're probably thinking this is a great idea except that if our kids are grown up by the time they're nine, we won't have a good excuse to buy the Christmas toys we pretend are for them. Well, that's true, but no plan is perfect.
Bill Tammeus is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.