Did you ever go to a poultry show? I mean a really big one, like the Royal Winter Fair on the CNE grounds.
If you ever get a chance, visit one of these displays of chickens. You will be amazed at the different kinds of “hens” there are.
You will see bantams, which weigh in at about a pound-and-a-half, and the giants (which are called Giants) of 15 or 16 pounds. Some have feathers on their feet while some have feathers on their heads, like hoods.
Some of the roosters have beautifully-curved tail feathers, some have no tails at all, and one Japanese variety can have a tail 25 feet long!
Chickens have been bred for egg production, others for meat, and some for both—the dual-purpose types. Some have been bred for cockfighting, and others just because they are pretty or unusual.
There is even a “negro” chicken, which has purple skin and feathers which are almost like fluffy hair.
We should take note that all of these are the same species—no matter how different they appear to be. They all have the same scientific name (Gallus domesticus).
The variations are all because of man’s breeding and interbreeding them over many centuries. All breeds of chickens can interbreed with each other.
All domestic fowl originated from the Indian Jungle Fowl of central Asia. These are fairly small birds, about the size of grouse.
The hen bird is mottled buff and brown, but the rooster has gleaming gold and red hackles and back feathers to complement his jet black breast, wing, and tail feathers—a very resplendent bird, indeed.
Some of the breeds of poultry have very ancient lineage. Among these are the stately Braham, formerly called Shangahis, and the massive Cochins, whose ancestry is lost in the dim past of ancient China.
The English Dorkings actually were a Roman breed, and were taken to England at the time of Julius Caesar. This stocky, short-legged, five-toed breed has remained essentially the same for more than 2,000 years.
As far as I know, only one breed of poultry ever originated in Canada. This was the Chantecler—a good-sized variety with quite heavy feathering and a very small comb, characteristics which were intended to help it withstand the rigors of the Canadian winter.
It never became very popular or widespread, although some large flocks did exist at one time in Quebec.
Perhaps our only claim to fame in the poultry world will fade away, as have so many other notable Canadian achievements.
Chickens are not just “hens” any more. They may be egg factories, where each bird has its own little pen and never sets foot on the earth at all.
Or they may be in broiler factories, where thousands of frying chickens are turned out—all precisely the same size, with the same amount of fat and the same government stamp.
The lucky ones are those that are cared for by the fancier. These are the aristocrats, who carry their ancient lineage with pride and dignity in the poultry world.
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