The Exploitation of the Chicken
The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is one of the most common domesticated animals in the world, with a population of over 24 billion recorded in 2003 (Perrins 2003) meaning there are more chickens than any other bird species. Chicken keeping has been practiced for centuries and provides a source of food from both their meet and eggs. It has become an extremely productive industry, requiring skill and expert knowledge, in which methods are still developing (Broomhead 1951). Today, the majority of poultry are raised using intensive farming methods (Sherman 2002). An alternative method is free range farming. There has been a lot of controversy between these two methods which still continues today. There are four species of wild fowl and the chicken is said to be a descendant of the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) in the Phasiandae family, although the origin of the chicken has been under debate for centuries. Due to the many variations in modern breeds of chicken, it is thought that all four species of fowl may have interbred to become the ancestors of the domestic poultry (Price 1969). However, recent studies have shown that the chicken may be a hybrid of the red jungle fowl and the grey jungle fowl (G. sonneratii) due to its yellow skin which originates from the grey jungle fowl (Eriksson et al. 2008). Chickens are omnivores and feed off seeds, insects and sometimes larger mammals such as mice or lizards. They can live up to 10 years old depending on the breed (ruleworks.co.uk), although commercially farmed chickens are slaughtered much earlier than this. The males, cockerels, can usually be distinguished from the female hens by their prominent combs and colourful feathers. They live together in flocks and, like many other poultry, they fight until a ‘pecking order’ is established (Schjelderup-Ebbe 1975). The hens will lay their eggs in the same nest and the eggs will be incubated communally. This approach is continued when raising the chicks. Hens can lay 180 – 320 eggs a year and some can lay 7 eggs per week, although most lay less than this. When an egg is fertilized, it takes around 21 days for the egg to hatch (ruleworks.co.uk). For the first two days, the newly hatched chicks will live off the egg yolk which they absorb just before they hatch. The hen will care for the chicks until they are several weeks old. The egg laying ability of a hen begins to decline after it reaches 1 year old (Price 1969), which is why many farmed chickens are slaughtered after 1 or 2 years of age. It is thought that chicken domestication took place over 10,000 years ago in South East Asian jungles, Vietnam, Thailand and Java then spreading to China and India (Eriksson et al. 1994; Sherman 2002). In early history of man, female game birds were used as a source of meat and eggs and it was discovered that by removing some eggs from the nest, the bird would lay more eggs (Smith and Daniel 2000). Chickens were mentioned as early as the second dynasty in Egypt and the Egyptians invented incubators built of clay brick and capable of hatching 10,000 chicks at a time (Smith and Daniel 2000). By 3000BC the chicken reached European countries such as Turkey and Greece, (Kiple and Ornelas 2000) but spread to Western Europe much later. During this time, cock fighting developed, which is a blood sport between two cockerels. Throughout these fights, the cockerel’s endured physical trauma and they sometimes ended in death. Cock fighting is now banned in most counties and has been banned in the UK since 1849 (Brown 1929). Chicken domestication and selective breeding has developed over the years. Poultry breeding has taken place in Britain for over 2000 years and Britain now has the most diversity of fowls that any other country (Brown 1929). Chickens are bred according to their purpose. Those which are bred for meat, known as broilers, have a large body and grow rapidly. These chickens are not efficient egg layers....
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