Chickens
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About Chickens

Chickens, classified under the kingdom Animalia, class Aves, and order Galliformes, are delightful and essential creatures that have been domesticated for thousands of years.  You will find chickens on almost every farm and in chicken coups in some neighborhood backyards.  They are fun, cute, and part of many farmland stories and fairytales.  They are one of the most popular animals that children try to imitate.  

Chickens, scientifically known as Gallus gallus domesticus, are small to medium-sized birds that come in a remarkable variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Domesticated chickens have descended from the wild red junglefowl and are characterized by their stout bodies, short wings, and feathered legs. 

They have a distinctive comb on top of their heads and wattles beneath their beaks. Chickens are well-known for their ability to walk, run, scratch the ground, and even fly short distances.

Types of Chickens:

With all the different types of chickens, many people ask how many breeds of chickens are there in the world?  There are over 500 breeds of chickens found across the globe.  Each of these breeds has its unique traits, appearances, and purposes.  Here are five of the most common and popular chicken breeds:

  • Rhode Island Red: Rhode Island Reds are renowned for their excellent egg-laying abilities. They have a vibrant red plumage and are known for their hardiness and adaptability to various climates.
  • Leghorn: Leghorns are medium-sized chickens known for their high egg production. They have a slender build, white feathers, and are often used in commercial egg production.
  • Plymouth Rock: Plymouth Rocks are dual-purpose chickens, meaning they are suitable for both egg-laying and meat production. They have distinctive black-and-white striped feathers and are known for their friendly nature.
  • Sussex: Sussex chickens come in various colors, including white, red, and speckled. They are known for their calm temperament and are popular among backyard chicken enthusiasts.
  • Orpington: Orpington chickens are large and heavy-bodied birds with fluffy feathers. They come in various colors, such as black, blue, buff, and white, and are valued for their meat and egg production.

You can view many of the different types of chickens below and see how they characteristics differ.

What are chickens known for?

Chickens are known for several distinct characteristics:

  1. Clucking and Crowing: Chickens are famous for their vocalizations, including clucking and crowing. Roosters, in particular, produce the iconic “cock-a-doodle-doo” crow in the early morning.
  2. Dust Bathing: Chickens engage in dust bathing, a behavior where they roll around in loose dirt or sand to keep their feathers clean, remove parasites, and cool down.
  3. Pecking Order: Chickens have a hierarchical social structure known as the pecking order. This establishes a ranking system within the flock, with dominant individuals having priority access to food and resources.
  4. Feather Displays: Male chickens, called roosters, often display their vibrant and eye-catching plumage to attract mates. Feather displays play a crucial role in courtship rituals and breeding.

Summary

Chickens are remarkable creatures with a rich history of domestication and a multitude of purposes in human society. From their diverse breeds to their essential contributions in egg and meat production, chickens have earned their place on farms, in backyards, and even in our hearts. 

Their unique characteristics, colorful feathers, and charming behaviors make them fascinating and cherished members of the animal kingdom. As we appreciate and care for these feathered friends, let us also recognize the importance of responsible chicken husbandry, ensuring their welfare and well-being for generations to come.

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Types of Chickens

Common

Australorp

Barnevelde

Booted Batam

Brahma

Faverolles

Feral Marans

Frizzled Mille

Hamburg

Hampshire Red

Jersey

Leghorn

Naked Neck

Orpington Cockerel

Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red

Sebright

Silkie

Sumatra

Welsummer

White Polish

Wyandotte

Yokohama

FAQ’s

1. What are the largest and smallest breeds of chickens?

The chicken breeds vary in size, but there are notable extremes:

  1. Largest Chicken: The Brahma chicken holds the record for being the largest chicken breed. They have a massive build, with males weighing up to 12 pounds and females around 9 pounds.
  2. Smallest Chicken: The Serama chicken is considered the smallest chicken breed in the world. They have a petite and compact size, with males weighing around 1 pound and females slightly lighter.

2. How many eggs do chickens lay?

The number of eggs a chicken lays at a time and in a year can vary depending on breed and individual factors.

Generally, most chicken breeds lay one egg per day, with some exceptions. Some hens may occasionally skip a day or lay fewer eggs due to factors such as age, health, or environmental conditions.

On average, a healthy hen can lay around 250-300 eggs per year.

3. How long do chickens live?

The lifespan of chickens can vary depending on factors such as breed, genetics, and overall care. On average, chickens live between 5 to 10 years.

However, some individuals may live longer, especially with proper nutrition, protection from predators, and regular healthcare. The specific breed or species that lives the longest is not specific, as it can vary depending on various factors.

4. What do chickens eat?

Chickens are omnivores and have a diverse diet:

  • Feed: Commercial chicken feed is specially formulated to provide the necessary nutrients for their growth and development. It typically includes a combination of grains, seeds, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Scratch Grains: Scratch grains, consisting of cracked corn, wheat, barley, or other grains, are often provided as a supplemental treat.
  • Vegetables and Fruits: Chickens enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruits, including lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, watermelon, and berries.
  • Insects and Worms: Chickens are natural foragers and have a keen ability to catch insects, worms, and other small invertebrates.

5. What are chickens use for?

Chickens have served a variety of purposes throughout history and in modern times:

  1. Egg Production: Chickens are a major source of eggs, providing a vital protein-rich food source for humans. Eggs are used in cooking, baking, and various culinary applications.
  2. Meat Production: Chickens are also raised for meat consumption. The broiler chicken industry focuses on raising chickens for their meat, which is widely consumed worldwide.
  3. Pest Control: Chickens are excellent foragers and can help control insect populations in gardens or farms by consuming pests such as slugs, ticks, and grasshoppers.
  4. Backyard Pets: Many people keep chickens as pets, enjoying their unique personalities and the joy of collecting fresh eggs from their own backyard.

6. What is the difference between a chicken and a turkey?

Chickens and turkeys are both poultry birds, but they have several differences:

  1. Size: Turkeys are larger than chickens. An average turkey is substantially heavier and more massive than a chicken.
  2. Appearance: Turkeys often have more colorful and distinctive plumage, especially on their tails, compared to the more modest appearance of chickens.
  3. Wattles and Snood: Turkeys have more prominent and more colorful wattles (the fleshy appendages under the chin) and a more extended, fleshy protuberance called a snood on their heads.
  4. Gobbling vs. Clucking: Turkeys are known for their gobbling sound, while chickens typically produce a clucking noise. Turkeys can also make a “purring” sound when content.
  5. Domestication: Both chickens and turkeys have been domesticated, but chickens have a longer history of domestication. Chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years, whereas turkey domestication is more recent.
  6. Eggs: Chicken eggs are smaller and typically more common for egg production. Turkey eggs are larger but less commonly consumed.
  7. Culinary Use: Turkeys are often associated with special occasions like Thanksgiving and are primarily raised for their meat. Chickens are raised for both meat and egg production.
  8. Habitat: Chickens are more adaptable to a variety of climates and are found worldwide. Turkeys, on the other hand, are native to North America and are often associated with this region.
  9. Behavior: Turkeys are known for their wild behavior, while chickens are more docile. Wild turkeys can be found in North America, and they are known for their elusive and cautious nature.
  10. Feathered Feet: Some turkey breeds have feathered feet, while this is not a common trait in chickens.

While chickens and turkeys share common poultry characteristics, these differences set them apart in terms of size, appearance, behavior, and culinary use.

Sources
  • Burnie, David & Wilson, Don, Animal, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
  • Hickman et al, Integrated Principle of Zoology, McGraw Hill, Boston.