The ancestors of the domestic chicken can be traced back to a bird living in the jungles of South East Asia.This was a small, partridge-coloured type of fowl called the Gallus bankiva. It bred once a year laying only one clutch of twelve eggs (see Figure 1 from Accompanying Booklet of Figures).

Chickens feature in art work of the ancient Egyptians (around 4000 BC) when they were kept for religious purposes. The early morning crowing of cocks led the Egyptians to believe that they were announcing the Sun God! There are records of chickens being kept as domestic animals in India as long ago as 3200 BC. Chickens probably reached Europe about two thousand years ago where they were valued not only as food producers but for the sport of cock fighting.

The modern chicken has undergone selected breeding and is now a very different bird from its ancestor. The once a year, short laying period of the jungle fowl has been extended to a long laying period of about ten months. The modern bird now lays up to three hundred eggs instead of one clutch of twelve eggs. The desire to sit on eggs and hatch them has been bred out of the modern birds so that they seldom go broody.Young birds reach sexual maturity and begin laying at twenty to twenty-four weeks of age unlike the wild jungle fowl who was only ready to lay at one year old.

Although the laying powers of chickens has been developed to a remarkable degree. Birds stop laying once a year when they go into a moult (replace their feathers). Once over a moult, the birds will begin to lay again but production during this second laying season will be about 20% below the production of the first season.However, the eggs from the second layer season will be larger.

Healthy hens can continue to lay for many seasons but the normal practice with commercial poultry is to keep the birds for one season's lay and then sell them for meat. New point-of-lay pullets are bought in to replace the older birds. Depending on the size of the poultry unit and the available housing, a supply of eggs can be maintained throughout the year by replacing the various flocks at different times of the year. Egg production is highest in spring and summer which is the period of lengthening daylight. In order to achieve the best production in winter, birds that are housed should be provided with artificial light.Birds that are kept on free range will follow the natural pattern of the seasons.

Poultry are economic converters of home grown food into both eggs and meat. Poultry manure is also a very valuable source of plant nutrients.

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If you are interested in learning more, why not study our Poultry course via distance education?

Extracts from Poultry Course Notes


What Constitutes Poultry?

Poultry refers to birds within the scientific order “Galliforme”.

This order is broken up into a number of families.

The family Phasianidae includes the common domestic fowl, as well as pheasants, partridge, quail and pea fowl.

The family Numididae encompases the guinea fowl.

The family Meleagridae encompases turkeys.

Waterfowl, including ducks and geese, belong to the family Anatidae

What is a Bantam? 

In general, a bantam is not a particular breed. The word bantam may be used to describe a miniature version of a standard breed 

Classifying Fowls 

The breeds of poultry are so numerous that they cannot be considered in detail in these notes. Poultry can however, be divided into three groups as follows:

Fowls are often classified according to their function, as follows:

- A light breed is a breed used for egg production. These animals are usually small to medium in size, active and grow fast 

- A dual Purpose breed is one that gives a reasonable production of both eggs, and meat.

- A heavy breed is one that gives good meat production, but usually poor egg production. These birds are generally friendly, and slower moving.

- An ornamental breed is one that is kept mostly because of their appearance (e.g. they may have a different or even attractive appearance).

Today, most commercial poultry producers use hybrid (crossbred) stock for either egg or meat production. The main purpose of keeping a pure breed is to provide the foundation stock for the breeding of hybrids. Hobbyists also keep pure breed strains for exhibition purposes.

Egg Laying Breeds

Egg laying breeds have the following characteristics:

- They are highly productive, white egg layers

- They seldom go broody

- They are light in weight, lean and not very heavily feathered

- They are active, nervous and become excitable when disturbed

- They have a good food conversion ratio.Being small, they eat less than the larger breeds but produce more eggs.

Egg Production

White Leghorns are prolific layers of white eggs. Golden Comets and Red Sex Links are excellent layers of brown eggs. In general, chicken breeds with white ear lobes lay white eggs, whereas chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs.

Eggs and Meat

Dual purpose breeds include several American and English breeds such as Ply-mouth Rocks, Sussex, and Wyandottes. These breeds lay reasonably well and are large enough for meat production.


For meat production only, nothing compares with the fast growth of Cornish Cross (White Cornish x White Plymouth Rock). They reach 4-5 lbs in 6weeks and 6-10 lbs in 8-12 weeks. They have active flighty dispositions, laying of white eggs, non-broodiness, and flying expertise. More examples are Leghorn, Ancona, and Minorca. 

Examples of Assignment Questions:

1. List and provide a short description of poultry pests and diseases that occur in your area.

2. Explain how you would go about diagnosing pests and diseases of poultry.

3. Explain how you would treat pests and diseases of poultry in your area. Specify at least six pests and/or diseases.

4. Describe a poultry vaccination program for a poultry farm you have visited.

5. Report on the techniques for, and significance of quarantine for poultry.

Other courses of interest to poultry hobbyists or enthusiasts:

OrnithologyOrganic FarmingFarm ManagementVertebrate Zoology; Permaculture Systems