Breeding and culture: chickens and their watch dogs

Genetics and environment are not separate, but interact to create systems which adapt and evolve.  The various breeds of chicken all resulted from a small and insignificant dinosaur which grew wings and thereby escaped the cataclysm which destroyed all its fellow dinosaurs.  The various species of birds arose through adaptation to environments all over the world.  The famous flightless birds of Australia and New Zealand had no land predators and found it unnecessary to maintain all the adaptations required for flight.


A species in Southeast Asia was adopted by the local people, selected for domesticity and productivity, and became what we call “chicken.”  Asians coming to America found another species which seemed willing to live with them.  This became today’s turkey (though why we have stuck with that name I’ll never understand).

Turkeys have a wonderful history intertwined with the Anasazi and Pueblo Indians (another word which no one has ever been able to adequately replace).  Read all about it in the links that follow.  Those of you who love a properly cooked turkey (my son and daughter-in-law do it the best) may be surprised to learn that turkeys were originally cultivated for their feathers, not for their meat or eggs.  It was almost a thousand years after they were domesticated that they began to be used for food.  Maybe the Anasazi got desperate while hiding in their cliff palaces from their enemies.

Chicken was also not domesticated for food.  The red jungle fowl still roams Southeast Asia and breeds with domestic chickens now and then.   The jungle fowl, known as the bamboo fowl in many Southeast Asian languages, is a special pheasant well adapted to take advantage of the large amounts of fruits that are produced during the end of the 50-year bamboo seeding cycle to boost its own reproduction. In domesticating the chicken, humans took advantage of this prolific reproduction of the jungle fowl when exposed to large amounts of food.  However, most poultry aficionados contend chickens spread from Thailand as participants in cock fighting games.  Only later did Westerners decide the chicken was not just for fighting, but for eating.

I have never heard of an organized cock fight near Meadowcreek, but there has probably been one, given how popular the sport was in the days when the Little Red River and Meadow Creek were at their population peak about a hundred years ago.

Yesterday, we about doubled the number of chickens at Meadowcreek.  A generous benefactor in Missouri donated some extremely valuable heritage breed chickens for us to care for and benefit from.  These chickens had to endure a torrential rainstorm in vicious St. Louis traffic and then a night in a motel parking lot before they found their new home at the Resilience House.

Chickens are notorious for pecking on the weakest of their flock when kept confined.  One barely survived the trip and is now being nursed back to health inside with its new mother.  The others are in a newly built structure on the only level ground not occupied by gardens.

The human who ferried them through the downpours and cities arrived with a sore back after 20 hours of driving in two days.  The truck carrying them also objected, but the help of good Samaritans in Rolla, Missouri, put us back on the road.  The mission is complete.  Now to introduce these plump, pampered chickens to the wildlife of Meadowcreek.  We hope they like ticks as much as we hate them.  Guinea fowl are said to be the best at removing ticks from a property, but we think chickens can do the trick, too.

We’ll see.  We got two beautiful eggs from the drive, so we’re pretty sure we will have plenty of eggs from these girls, if they can adapt to the ten or so predator species which live at Meadowcreek and love the less wary chickens.  We do need a good watch dog to live at the chicken coop and protect them.  Anyone need a good home for a puppy with chicken husbandry genes?

A doctoral thesis on Anasazi and turkey:

Good general article on the origin of turkeys:

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