Domestication of the Chicken: Out of the Jungles of Asia and Into The Modern World

Domestication of the Chicken: Out of the Jungles of Asia and Into The Modern World

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Backyard chickens are all over the news these days. In towns and cities across the United States, people are fighting for their right to raise their own food. The United Kingdom has also seen a rise in the popularity of small-scale poultry farming and other European cities have legalized the practice as well. Have you ever stopped to wonder where this trend came from? Or consider that raising chickens was popular for thousands of years before it became unfashionable to have chickens pecking about one’s yard?

Photo by: Garrett Heath
Photo by: Garrett Heath

Between 5 000- 8,000 years ago near China, the first chickens were domesticated from a wild Red Junglefowl. The success of this breed couldn’t be contained; Chickens slowly became popular throughout other parts of the globe. Chicken bones have been discovered in the tombs of ancient European Pharaohs. The Greeks also portrayed chickens in their pottery around 500 BC. A bit later on, the Romans considered chickens to be oracles. 7th century BC Corinthian pottery features pictures of domesticated chickens. A 2007 study by The University of Auckland’s Department of Anthropology suggests that prehistoric Polynesians were the first to bring domesticated chickens to the Americas. Other studies claim that chickens arrived in the Americas with European explorers. Easy to care for and inexpensive to purchase, the chicken offered man quick and nutritious food. Chickens were vital to early American colonists striving to survive in a harsh and unforgiving new world. Pioneers brought chickens West, relying on their eggs and meat in a vast land.  Chickens were an important part of life. Regardless, these useful birds became popular wherever they were taken, raised for eggs and for meat and sustaining generations of humanity.

Today, there are more than 24 billion chickens worldwide, making it one of the most common domesticated animals in existence. Men have bred and changed chickens in countless ways over the years, creating birds that meet every requirement imaginable. There are breeds that do well in hot climates and those that thrive where it is cool. There are birds that do well living in confinement and those that do best in a wide, open yard. With hundreds of breeds in existence, there’s one to meet every need.

Industrialization brought about a lot of changes. As people moved to cities for work, raising one’s own chickens became less popular. People got away from farming, and likewise away from the source of their food. Commercial farming made the problem worse. It’s far more common today for chickens to be raised in huge, commercial buildings, living in cages or cramped together in tight quarters than to be raised on a traditional farm. Consumers turned to the supermarket for their chicken meat and eggs. Raising chickens was seen as unsophisticated and unfashionable. Many traditional heritage breeds almost disappeared from existence because of this dramatic shift.

In recent years, raising one’s own chickens has made a huge comeback. The ugly side of commercial farming has been exposed time and again and people have started paying attention and taking control of their own food. It’s no longer unfashionable to raise chickens, but instead rather hip. Whether for health, environmental, or economic reasons, caring for chickens is a popular trend in modern society. More cities are allowing chickens within their backyards each year. The chicken seems to be the ultimate comeback bird. With its long and varied history, it’s not hard to believe that this bird is here to stay.

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