The chicken can trace its origins to the dinosaurs (and probably the same warm pool of primaeval water that we emerged from if you go back far enough) but the beast that you and I would recognise, probably appeared around 5000BC.
This early chicken roamed the foothills of the Himilayas and elsewhere in south and southwest Asia. Known as Gallus Gallus it had a strong beak and sharp claws and was quite capable of looking after itself. It wasn\'t until sometime between 3000 and 2000BC that Gallus Domesticus came onto the scene. In those days chickens were kept for religious sacrifice, cockfighting and as an early form of clock. Of these three uses, it is interesting to note that only the chicken clock remains today.
The pictures on the right show two prize fighters. The top one was known as the Black Breasted Red Tailed Champion who killed 3 in 2 minutes! Underneath is The Bone Crusher, luckily these two never met in competition.
Anyway, it didn\'t take long for the chicken to catch on in a big way and they started popping up all over the place. From America to Japan, chickens were most definitely in fashion. It was probably the enterprising Egyptians who started to mass-produce chickens and eggs for food. It takes a lot of people and energy to build a pyramid and eggs were the perfect sustenance! Check the egg section to find out all about the nutritional value of the egg.
Many Greek Gods laid claim to the chicken. It was sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, a symbol of fertility for Persephone, of love and desire for Eros and of commerce and productivity for Hermes. Because of its connection to the Gods, the chicken was not eaten by the Greeks although they were partial to eggs.
Under the Roman Empire, the Europeans started to breed chickens for meat and eggs but it wasn\'t until the Victorian times in the mid-nineteenth century that breeding for looks really took off. This was because Queen Victoria herself became interested in chickens. The Victorians went chicken crazy. They organised clubs, competitions, exhibitions and paid hundreds of pounds at auction for the finest birds. Queen Victoria actually banned the sport of cockfighting in 1849. Click on breeds to find out which chickens the Queen herself bred.
The last twenty years have seen many changes to the system of food production. Sadly the philosophy of \'more for less\' has prevailed, often resulting in a drop of standards in animal welfare. However, more and more people are beginning to express interest in the ethical origin of their food. Buying organic or free-range is an excellent start, but why not go that one step further and keep your own chickens!