When any small fledgling homestead begins the pursuit of animal husbandry the first animal that comes to mind is that of the chicken. While we’re not looking to breed livestock, nor to slaughter them ourselves, we are looking at raising egg layers. While Joe has had previous experience up close and personal with chickens (go ahead, ask him about the odd spot in his eye), I have no experience with the fowl except for cooking and eating them. So, as with any other venture I think seriously about, I’ve begun researching everything that is chicken.
For starters, I never really thought about the fact that even chickens were at one point a wild fowl that had to be domesticated to end up where they are now. Like many other animals that have been altered due to selective breeding through domestication (such as cows and pigs), chickens have undergone their own “camouflage” that separates them from their ancient ancestors, but only minutely so. The real reason we don’t see them as ever having been wild is that they’ve been domesticated since roughly 3000 BCE!
The red junglefowl is the to have supposedly started it all. Common belief holds that this cute little bugger was domesticated in India for the purpose of food, decorative uses (feathers), and entertainment (cock fighting). Some researchers place the rise in domesticated chickens to various areas throughout the same time period. China, Malaysia, Thialand, and other areas of Southeast Asia are mentioned as possible starting points for the long history of breeding the birds. The concept quickly spread into Egypt, eventually moving into other farming regions throughout the world, and being brought to the Americas by British, French, and Dutch settlers.
It’s interesting to see that, for all intents and purposes, these creatures are very similar to those still found wild and roaming around today. The differences between the current wild red junglefowl and modern chickens have more to do with size and less to do with coloring. Domesticated chickens, as has happened with other domesticated animals, have become larger in general size than their wild contemporaries. A lot of this has to do with the selective breeding that goes on in animal husbandry. This is the same breeding selection that create the white chickens that Romans used to use for sacrifices and ornamental chickens that the Chinese breed for beauty.