Chickens are kept by many people for meat, eggs and even companionship worldwide… In the modern day, there are ~65 recognized chicken breeds in the US. However, there are hundreds of breeds recognized across the world. Each breed has a different temperament, different characteristics, a different personality and even a different appearance. So… where did all these interesting little creatures come from?
The answer is Asia. Jungle Fowl (Our modern day chicken’s ancestor), became domesticated approximately a few thousand years ago. There are many different varieties of jungle fowl. In fact, many modern chicken breeds still resemble their ancestors.
Jungle fowl still roam wild on many parts of the world today. However, throughout the years, people selected traits in the original fowl in order to achieve a desired appearance, production, temperament… or even crow length (as seen in Long Crowing breeds). Such traits include higher egg/meat production and/or appearance. Because many modern breeds are more economically profitable, there are few people who still keep true, original jungle fowl birds.
Above: Red Jungle fowl Male (Cock).
Below: Red Jungle Fowl Female (Hen).
Who Domesticated the first Chickens?
No one is exactly sure by whom in particular first kept chickens. However, the practice of keeping chickens was primarily noted in China and Viatnam first and then moved to East Asia. At the time, Chickens (Still Jungle fowl at that period) where more of a specialty animal (like peacocks, monkeys and songbirds). This means that they where raised as ornamental and cockfighting birds… It wasn’t until even later, when people began to recognize the practicality of keeping chickens for food (eggs and meat), that the practice of keeping chickens became more wide-spread.
Although the Egyptians where primarily known for keeping cattle, Historians conclude that Egyptians where the first to hatch eggs by man-made means (supposedly in clay pots). This way, more eggs could be produced while eggs where still being hatched. After this discovery, the chicken population in the area took an upward turn and chickens became more of a staple for the average household. The Egyptians where also the first to breed Fayoumis (also known as Bigawi) chickens, which mature very quickly and begin laying earlier than most breeds.
Chickens later spread to France and England, where they where prized for their appearances as well as eating purposes. The French are the ones who first bred Crevecoeurs and Faverolles. However, many heritage meat breeds (such as the Sussex, Dorking and Orpington) where first bred in England.