The stately chicken as a farm animal has been around for thousands of years. The modern chicken is a descendent of the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) and probably a cross with the Grey Junglefowl. There are still wild types skittering around southern Asia. The first knowledge we have of chickens being produced for food comes from India. Since those very early years, various cultures have produced many types of domestic chickens. There are large sizes weighing as much as 10 lbs. and smaller birds merely a little over 1 lb. Chickens are part of a group of birds called the Gallinaceous, of which turkeys and peacocks are also family members.
I spent my childhood looking forward to visiting my grandmother’s 40 acre farm in northern Wisconsin. For a kid that grew up playing whiffleball in the alleys of Chicago this was indeed a treat. My grandmother was tough as nails and she milked her six cows, raised two steers and 100 egg-laying hens with one rooster that I, of course, named Foghorn. She wanted fertilized eggs and so did the people in town to whom she sold the eggs. I used to collect the eggs from under the hens then clean and weigh them so they would be sold according to the proper size. She would keep her hens for two laying cycles and then the Queen of Hearts would arrive and we had stewing chickens and chicken and dumplings. Those tough ol’ birds got the pressure cooker. It just seems like no one uses the pressure cooker anymore. Such a useful cooking method!
She would let her chickens out of the coop to forage in the garden to hunt bugs. There would be a dent in the cabbage now and then, but she never used herbicides or pesticides. She hand hoed the garden, and when wet, worms would come up and the chickens would find them. Since she hoed almost every day they knew there would be goodies to pick up. Chickens indeed have the ability to learn. As a child of 7 to 12, I didn’t realize what I was learning about animals and the reverence farmers of old had for their farm animals. I actually didn’t understand what I’d experienced until I was in college. My grandmother’s influence had drawn me to animal husbandry as a profession 50 years ago and I’ve been there ever since. (more…)