The Lowly, Humble Chicken
A Bad Rap
The chicken gets a bad rap. They’re the butt of many bad jokes and its’ name is hurled as an insult. E.I. You’re chicken, cackling old hen, old bitty and infinitum. But seriously, chickens are the world's most common domestic bird. They out number people 4 to 1. That translates to a global population of about 24 billion. They are raised for meat, eggs, show, and also as pets.
And amazingly, most people know very little about the bird. Most authorities agree the origins of the domestic chicken Gallus Domesticus came from the Red Jungle Fowl of Asia. DNA research has found their domestication occurred about 8,000 years ago in what is now Thailand and Vietnam.
Present day chickens are larger and more productive than the ancestral Red Jungle Fowl. Gallus Domesticus belongs to the family Phasianidae which encompasses pheasants and quails. Therefore, it’s related to such birds as the Ring-necked Pheasant, partridge, turkey and peafowl.
Chickens are raised mainly for egg and meat production and usually done in one of two ways. The intensive commercial system or the traditional rural scavenging backyard system. In rural communities the flocks are small but important.
They provide food for family consumption and are sold for additional income. Rural chickens also provide natural garden fertilizer and are an integral part of natures’ pest control system. In many countries they are owned and managed by women and children.
Today’s, bird has been selectively bred for various characteristics and there are about 150 different varieties. Their life span is about seven years with a few varieties living a little longer.
The Pecking Order
Chickens begin mating and laying eggs at about six months. Hens in the wild lay eggs in the spring and raise their brood during the summer. However, hens in captivity lay eggs at any time and will continue laying them if the eggs are taken. Fertilized eggs remaining in the nest will hatch in about three weeks. Their life span is about seven years with a few varieties living a little longer.
People sometimes refer to” the pecking order” in our society. This expression actually comes from the hierarchy order established within a flock of chickens.
For instance, if there is one rooster in the flock, he naturally becomes the dominant chicken or “alpha-rooster”. He occupies the highest position in the pecking order and mates with most of the hens. One of the hens will become the dominant hen. This pair will peck at the rest of the flock, but none of the other chickens will peck them back. If there are two roosters, the less dominant becomes second in line, or “beta-rooster”, with a corresponding beta-hen.
The rest then establishes a pecking order descending to the lowest chicken which gets pecked by the rest. Laying hens tend to dominate over younger hens. If no rooster is present, a hen may take the dominant role, sometimes even growing small spurs.
The output in terms of eggs is about 50 eggs a hen per year. And often it takes more than 6 months to produce a broiler ready to slaughter. They eat food from their environment such as insects and seeds. In addition they may get scraps and leftovers from the kitchen.
In contrast commercial systems are more expensive, labor intensive and sophisticated. But output is higher with about 280 - 320 eggs for each hen per year and only 35 - 40 days to raise a broiler.
Here are some interesting facts about chickens. Did you know the more hours of daylight there are the more eggs a hen will lay? Chickens will also mourn lost flock members as well as their human caretakers who are absent for an extended time.
Chickens will scratch in areas of fine, dry soil and then take a dirt bath in it. This helps remove parasites on their feathers and skin. Well adjusted chickens kept as pets like attention and enjoy being petted. They make good pets but don’t fare well alone. And alektorophobia is the fear of chickens.