Animal Info Chickens History

About the history of chickens from breeding in China to cockfighting to poultry farming.



By 1400 B.C., the Chinese were raising and breeding chickens for meat and eggs. Shortly thereafter, chickens were exported to Egypt and--long before the Christian era--became a livestock staple in Rome and Greece. In 43 A.D., Roman invaders introduced the chicken to England.

Chickens first reached North and South America in the 1500s as part of the Spanish explorers' travel provisions. Chickens were also part of the Pilgrims' Mayflower cargo, and they were carried westward by American pioneers on their cross-country treks.

In addition to providing meat, eggs, and feathers, a fortunate few chickens over the centuries have been used as "show" animals and family pets.

The most controversial use of the chicken is for cockfighting. Gamecocks are "hit" birds, specially bred for ferocity, speed, and power. Equipped by men with knife-sharp artificial spurs, the cocks stage bloody fights-to-the-death. Unlike bullfighting, cockfighting involves danger only to the bird.

Originated in China and India, this vicious amusement was practiced in ancient Rome, Greece, and Persia. It was particularly popular in England until declared illegal in 1849. Chicken George, slave ancestor of Alex Haley in his best-seller Roots, earned his freedom by working as a cock trainer in the U.S. and England during the early 19th century.

Cockfighting is still common in Spain, the Orient, and many Latin American countries. There is also an enthusiastic black-market audience for the sadistic sport in some parts of the U.S.

Today, poultry farming is a major business. Its growth has paralleled decreased costs in "chicken and egg factories" and the success of such take-out-food chains as Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are an estimated 3.8 billion chickens in the world--one fifth of them in the U.S.--and they produce more than 390 billion eggs annually.

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