Animals

10 Surprisingly Interesting Facts About Chickens

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Chickens are among the most common animals in the world. Their total population is estimated to be at least 19 billion, three times the total population of humans. For comparison, the second most common domesticated food animals are cattle, with a population of 1.4 billion. Chickens are also the most slaughtered animal—more chickens are killed yearly than all other land animals combined. In the United States alone, seven billion chickens are killed annually. With so many chickens around, it’s easy to take them for granted. But when you look closer, they are a surprisingly fascinating animal.

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10. They Probably Weren’t Domesticated For Food

It seems surprising, but archaeologists now believe that chickens weren’t actually domesticated for food. Instead, the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) of Southeast Asia were likely first captured by humans for the notoriously cruel “sport” of cockfighting, eventually developing into the modern domesticated chicken. This probably happened at least 7,000 years ago, making chickens one of the oldest domesticated animals. The egg-laying bird quickly spread across the world, although its value as a source of meat was relatively limited until the development of modern industrial farming techniques.

Cockfighting was an enormously popular sport for most of history, although it is now widely recognized as inhumane and has been made illegal in most countries. Nevertheless, the so-called sport continues underground and has been linked to gambling, drugs, and the trade in illegal weapons. The gamecocks involved are specially bred, trained, and pumped full of steroids. Dagger-like attachments called gaffs, which can be as long as 7.5 centimeters (3 in) are attached to their feet. Their feathers are plucked and their combs and wattles are cut off to prevent their opponent from striking them. Fights generally lead to the death of one or both birds, along with broken bones, damaged eyes, and punctured lungs.

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