poultry, domesticated fowl kept primarily for meat and eggs; including birds of the order Galliformes, e.g., the chicken, turkey, guinea fowl, pheasant, quail, and peacock; and natatorial (swimming) birds, e.g., the duck and goose. Several poultry birds, including the chicken and the goose, were domesticated over 3,000 years ago. The chief poultry bird is the chicken, which probably originated as a jungle fowl in SW Asia; it may have been domesticated 7,000 or more years ago. Until the mid-20th cent., poultry were raised for domestic and commercial use on many farms in the United States, with the production of eggs being of primary importance. After World War II, faster growing birds were developed, and large-scale producers emphasizing the raising of birds of meat came to dominate the poultry industry, with the economic value of broiler chickens greatly exceeding that of eggs. Specialized hatcheries deliver chicks fresh from the incubator to commercial growers, who mass-produce birds under precisely controlled conditions on diets scientifically calculated to produce rapid growth to market size, for delivery to processors. Many distinct chicken breeds, once appreciated for their particular combinations of characteristics, have been combined through selective breeding into a few relatively standard types that are notably efficient converters of feed into meat or eggs. The dominant meat chicken today is a cross between the fast-growing female White Plymouth Rock chicken, and the deep-breasted male Cornish chicken (see Cornish hen). The predominant egg type in the United States today is the White Leghorn chicken. Dual-purpose meat-and-egg breeds have all but disappeared. Turkeys have been similarly standardized. Because of their lower cost and lower fat content, chicken and turkey are increasingly popular protein sources with American consumers, rivaling pork and even beef in per capita consumption. A few breeds of chicken are raised chiefly for their ornamental appearance or as pets. These include the Polish varieties, characterized by their large showy crests; the fighting, or game, varieties, still bred where cockfighting is popular; and the Bantams, which are primarily miniature counterparts of standard breeds.
See R. Moreng and J. Avens, Poultry Science and Production (1985); R. E. Austic and M. C. Nesheim, Poultry Production (13th ed. 1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Agriculture: Animals