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Getting to know poultry

Video discussing the history of poultry domestication.
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As far back as 1298 Marco Polo documented a breed of chicken with hair like a cat, which he met on his travels in the Orient– the Silkie, as we now know it. In the early 19th century, when trade between the West and China became more accessible, exotic birds became more commonplace in the markets of North America and Europe. Fast-forwarding to modern-day, chickens have evolved into specific breeds which can now be categorised into four distinct groups. Firstly, light breeds. These are the closest in appearance to their jungle fowl ancestors. Most are laying breeds which over time have become hybridised to create the commercial layers we know today.
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Light breeds are active and alert, happy to roost in trees, but generally shorter-lived than heavier breeds. Here is an example– the Welsummer. Heavy breeds tend to have Asiatic influences and are known for being placid, friendly, and robust. Historically, heavy breeds were selected as table birds. Orpingtons and Marans are two examples of heavy breeds. True bantams originate from Java and arrived in the UK in 1683. A true bantam has no large breed counterpart and exists only as a miniature bird. Unlike bantams, which are simply smaller versions of other breeds, true bantams are purely ornamental. Finally, game birds. Originally kept for fighting, these birds are strong and powerful. In 1849, an act of Parliament resulted in a ban on cockfighting.
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As a result, many breeders turned to exhibiting game fowl, which became popular for showing. But there were two distinct groups of people with differing views on how Old English fowls should look. This difference in opinion led to a split in the Old English Game Club in 1930. The Carlisle Old English Game Club was made up of breeders showing large-breasted, flat-backed birds, and the Oxford club continued showing the original conformation, with backs at 45 degrees to the horizontal.

Now Jane Howorth will introduce you to poultry with a brief overview of the history of chickens up to modern day and an outline of the four distinct groups.

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