A descendant of the red Jungle Fowl, the chicken today is the most popular protein source of humans. World chicken population in 2004 was approximately 25 billion, although a year before a virus causing the avian flue caused the extermination of millions of chickens in Asia. The disease is spreading, albeit slowly westwards.
The first domesticated chicken depictions were found on Corinthian pottery 700
B C, but most likely humans were breeding this animal much earlier.
Millions of chickens (hens) and roosters (cocks) are kept as pets in Asia and South America. In some, cock fighting is a popular sport and betting event. There are many amateur cock breeders who supply the “industry”, and also participate in this activity which some consider appalling. Now there are more and more illegal cockfighting events organized by immigrants in the U.S.A. Authorities are concerned but cannot do much to prevent them.
In western industrialized countries chicken is now “manufactured” in huge, specifically designed buildings in which thousands of chickens are produced using assembly line manufacturing principles.
Chickens are social animals and like to live in flocks. In cramped quarters they become aggressive and do cannibalize others. In modern chicken breeding facilities, many hens are cramped into small cages, and to prevent injuries they are de-beaked in infancy. De-beaking removes 2/3 of the top half and 1/3 of the bottom of a chicken’s beak. This procedure is painful and many now think of it as barbaric.
Practically all hens are now incubated in artificial surroundings for 21 days, and soon after caged, provided with water and fed artificial feed to induce growth. They are vaccinated against diseases that occur in cramped quarters, and forced to lay as many as 250 eggs per year, whereas the average is 120, although some breeds have been known to lay approximately 300 eggs.
Chickens are omnivorous and the taste of their eggs and flesh depends much on the feed. Industrial chicken feed contributes little, if any, to the taste of eggs.
The taste of “battery” raised chicken is at best neutral and often lacks any discernible flavour. Presently there are 127 chicken breeds, and crossbreeding two or more species to develop more profitable animals.
The most popular chicken breeds are Leghorns (developed in Italy) for eggs, Cochin (southern China as pets and food. They weigh 4 – 5 Kg. On the average and have flavorful flesh); Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red both bred in the U S A for food and eggs, Sussex (England) is a prolific egg producer (260 per year); Brahma (India), Bresse blonde (France). Bresse chickens are pampered and must be provided at least 10 square meters (approximately 90 square feet) of free range. They are fed milk, and let loose to supplement their diet with worms and whatever else the environment can provide. Their flesh is firm and flavorful, and the cost is more than the regular “industrial” chickens. They are also known as “blue feet aristocrats”. Only 1.2 million are produced annually. This Appellation d’Origine Controllee bird is famous not only in France but in many Central European countries.
Most “industrial” chickens are market ready in eight weeks and weigh eviscerated 600 – 1200 grams (broiler/fryer), roasters are heavier and older (1300 – 2700 grams) at three to months of age and tend to be somewhat tougher than broilers.
Capons are tastiest of all. These cocks are de-sexed surgically in youth to provide flavourful and firmer flesh and usually slaughtered when eight months old.
Chicken is versatile. It can be sautéed, roasted, BBQ, braded and deep-fried, pan-fried, smoked, poached, and even after cooking used with other foodstuffs as stuffing.
Some industrial chickens are corn finished, have yellow and better tasting flesh. North Americans have developed an insatiable appetite for chicken breast, and chicken wings. The largest chicken processor Tyson in Arizona, ships millions of boxes of frozen chicken legs to Russia. The population there likes the somewhat more flavourful and firmer legs much better than the flavour free chicken breast recipes.
Before 1930, chicken was considered a delicacy in North America and became popular after the introduction of industrial birds.
Although the cost of chicken is low, the flesh contains a high proportion of water and shrinkage is excessive. Naturally raised or organic chickens are available although cost considerably more than there “manufactured” cousins , but well worth the expense.