Guest blog Hans Krudde: What is a chicken?
I am Hans Krudde and have loved chickens since childhood! Growing up in the Achterhoek countryside with chickens always around me. After higher agricultural school I started working as an animal care teacher at the Praktijkschool in Barneveld (formerly the Pluimveevakakschool) with chickens, sheep and horses as main subjects. After 25 years in Barneveld, I am still giving trainings on keeping (hobby) chickens and horses, next to my work as a professional photographer. Living on the Veluwe countryside I keep horses, sheep, pigs and of course chickens (a.o. Australorps and Bresse chickens). I try to convey the pleasure I get from my chickens in my blogs and workshops because I like to make everyone a little chickeny!
Everyone knows chickens, but what do we really know about the most widely kept bird species in the world?
So a chicken is a bird, and more specifically a ground bird. That is, chickens mainly occupy themselves on the ground during the day, scavenging, foraging, taking sand baths, and eggs are also laid on the ground, in a sheltered spot. Towards evening, however, they seek a higher place to spend the night safely, as chickens are prey animals. To get into the trees, chickens must be able to fly. Like all other birds, chickens have wings, hollow bones and air sacs for this purpose, however, compared to other birds, chickens are not high flyers.
The limited ability to fly applies to all pheasant-like species to which chickens belong. Chickens are descended from the wild grouse of Asia and were the first pheasant-like animals to be domesticated, that is, made as pets, which took place about 3,000 years before Christ.
The wild grouse, the most famous being the Bankiva fowl, which still live in the wild in Asia, allowed themselves to be tamed quite easily in part because chickens are rather homesteaders. Once accustomed to their new, restricted, living conditions, they like to stay “nearby. Incidentally, the first tame chickens were not kept for their eggs but for their meat and….men enjoyed cockfighting!
Out into the world
From Asia, domesticated chickens spread throughout the world, adapting to local conditions such as climate and food supply. This created a huge variety of appearances and some breeds now resemble the primal chicken only remotely. Around the beginning of the era, incubators heated by composting horse manure were even used to get more chicks. Humans began to play an increasing role in the husbandry and development of chickens which helped lead to the huge variety of breeds we know today.
In Western Europe, chickens brought back by trade journeys and crusades mainly belonged to the nobility and were considered a luxury product. Only in the nineteenth century did more and more chickens end up on farms and eggs and meat became available to the “common” population.
Something for everyone
By selecting for specific characteristics, driven by both aesthetic and commercial motives, chickens emerged with different comb shapes, feather types, colors, sizes, excellent layers or just meat providers. As different as the more than 250 breeds of chickens are, they all still exhibit many behaviors of the original primal chickens from Asia.
For anyone keeping or considering keeping chickens, it is very important to take these natural behaviors of chickens seriously. If you understand how important being able to perform natural behaviors is for a chicken’s well-being, then you will also quickly understand what housing or feeding our domestic chickens should look like.
In the coming blogs, therefore, we will pay a lot of attention to the natural behavior of chickens and the provisions we make to give “captive” fowl a chicken-worthy life as well.
Since I like to make you guys a little chickeny, there will be lots of fun and interesting blogs to follow! Topics such as the evolution of a chicken, housing a chicken, natural habitat and much more.
Text & photo: Hans Krudde