By Frederick J. Dunn
A source of science, social observation, inspiring to poets like Robert Frost, a nutritional necessity or merely a pet that produces, this is gallus domesticus. The modest chicken, historically so common in the door yard, has been, is, and should continue to be, commonplace in neighborhoods throughout the world.
Take any period movie from the shelf or video rental store. how often are chickens seen just getting out of the way of the wagon wheel, picking through trash on the streets of old England, moving aside from the broom of a 12th century hand maiden? The chicken has been at arms length in many households around the world. Their availability for immediate observation has been the source for human/chicken comparisons and deep thinkers watch at length, contemplating the origins of such a useful bird. Any scholar would be hard pressed, to truly pin down the first domestication of this diverse and often stunningly beautiful bird. They are written into documents as a domesticated animal, extending back as far as 3000 B.C.!
Modern science and efficient mass management, have made the egg protein, among the most beneficial and affordable foods to occupy a grocery cooler shelf. Thus, successfully removing this long domesticated bird, from the warm hands of our children and daily lives. Today, many people have never even seen a chicken in the flesh, save that it be already dressed and packaged in the meat department.
So, what is it about the domestic chicken, which makes it such a wonderful companion bird on the human homestead? Why is it tailor made for urban settings? For these answers, we simply go the chicken's inherent behavior.
What's a chicken in the first place? Don't worry, you won't receive a genetic history here, I leave that to Darwin and other genetic researchers of days gone by... A chicken is originally jungle fowl and was probably first observed by hunters. The chicken was easy to find, because, unlike most of our native wild birds today, chickens are gallinaceous, which means, among other things, that chickens are resident birds. They could be found in the same nesting area time and again, where their eggs and even offspring could be harvested/collected, with relative ease. This fundamental instinct in the chicken, makes the domesticated version, easy to keep and manage in nearly any homestead (city or country). People like to keep their animals, chickens included, in predictable and easy to maintain domiciles, convenient to their own living quarters. In some cultures, the chicken even occupies the same living space as its owner.
People and chickens are symbiotic, people cast off uneaten food and other waste material, which the chicken thrives on. In return, the chicken, being highly prolific and predictable, produces eggs or chicks in great numbers. Chickens were among the first homestead recycling systems. Many people enjoy the company of a bird which is not only useful for utility, but also fills a need for companionship in many cases. Chickens have specific vocabularies, the hen more than the rooster, and do murmur, cluck and chatter away at their keepers. In turn, some keepers talk frequently to their birds. The rooster is an alarm clock and would crow with great regularity. Chickens in all their adaptability, even come to tolerate being held and some actually insist on lap sitting, or perching on the arm of someone snapping beans on the porch. Put up a small chicken residence (coop) and chickens would return to the building they were raised in, even if given free range, the birds returned unaided, to their home by night fall. Birds, so easily conditioned and so hearty in their ability to subsist on forage, were bound to be a part of the human homestead from the start.
Today, there is a breed of chicken for virtually any environment and a personality tailored to that of its potential keeper/owner. From the Jersey Giant, to the tiny Serama, people have bred the chicken to nearly every foreseeable form and disposition suited to a particular end use. I would suggest, that bringing back this meaningful and indeed, beautiful bird, to our backyards and into the joyful care of our children, will serve to enhance and indeed improve, the overall life experience once known to virtually everyone. Every person should know the joyful shriek of a child, gathering a fresh egg, still warm from the hen and carefully delivering the same to your kitchen counter. Few pets are so inexpensively kept, so easily reared, so responsive to human interaction and ever so adaptable to virtually any climate. From the Great Wall of China to the Pyramids of Giza, all were built with domesticated chickens in their shadow and eggs in their stomachs of those who did the work. www.fredsfinefowl.com
Frederick J. Dunn is a retired Navy man and a life long poultry man. He raises bees, emu and chickens in rural PA and is the author of the DVD Regarding Chickens. Fred is a contributor to Mother Earth News. Check out his website: www.fredsfinefowl.com to learn more about him.
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