“Funky Chickens”


Poultry science is a discipline, but  so is poultry medicine.  We sometimes forget how much more knowledge is available on the husbandry and health care of domesticated animals-food animals that have become a staple part of our diet. The broiler and layer industries are big business and veterinarians in this field get compensated quite well to address the preventive medicine and population health and welfare concerns for these domestic food animal species.  Concerns over food animal welfare have improved conditions for poultry and free-range and organic farms are increasing in popularity.

Domesticated fowl are most closely related to red jungle fowl, the wild gallinaceous species of tropical Asia. This sole ancestor of the domestic chicken may in fact be extinct in the wild because of extensive breeding with domestic birds throughout it’s range.  Nevertheless, patrons of zoological parks may not get particularly excited by domestic fowl although much is left to learn. And what’s not to like about the Polish Top Hat. I still hear people refer to the hen as  the “chicken” and the rooster as well, the “rooster.”  I hear this at the zoo, on the farm and even in the grocery store. You also commonly hear peafowl erroneously labeled.

Fowl may not be the most popular exhibit animals, but some galliformes are quite beautiful birds. For example, the golden pheasant or Chinese pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) is a pretty impressive bird. I had more experience with Attwater’s praire chicken which once ranged throughout the gulf coastal prairies of Texas and Louisiana than I had with common broiler breeds while working in zoos. Many living collections manage very exotic breeds of domestic fowl.  I just want to recognize the chicken. When I see articles about domestic fowl I suspect that they fail to gain much attention.  If you weren’t raised on a farm it’s likely that your first exposure to chicken breeds was through experience working at a children’s farm exhibit.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

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