During explorations, chickens were taken along on the ships, as a meat source. Columbus is credited for bringing chickens to the New World on his second voyage. When the ships landed at ports or unknown lands, the chickens that were left over were released and fresh chickens were loaded onto the ships for the continuing journey.
If you've wondered about the genetics of chickens, this may help you to realize that once these chickens were released, they intermingled and of course lived off the lands, mixing their genetics and adapting to the environment. There is virtually no chicken breed in the world that does not have mixed genetics. Some by the aid of man, but most from the process of *natural selection*.
Our rare Icelandics date back to the 9th century, when the Vikings raided and conquered the Northern lands. They brought chickens with them, which mingled with the chickens of those lands, creating a breed that as a landrace is known little out of its place of origin. The landrace breeds are hardy and well adapted to the environment, with little known illness or disease. Our rare Swedish Flower Hens have a similar history to the Icelandics, as do the rare Basque Hens that we raise. The major difference in the history is location in the world.
Archeologists have determined through DNA and carbon datings, all Gallus gallus breeds started with the Asian game fowl from Southeast Asia. The Spanish explorers have been bestowed with the honor of being the first to bring chickens to the Americas in the 15th century. All chickens are classified as Asian, Mediterranean, European and American breeds. Research of the breeds that you are interested in yields information of origin to assist you in decision making as to the hardiness for your own regions, or if special care is required for them to adapt to your region.
It is guesstimated there are 19 billion chickens in the world, approximately 3 chickens per person around the globe. The Chinese are known to have the largest population of chickens, which isn't surprising, given their population. Beef is a distant second in the animal world with 1.6 billion. In a breakdown of chickens per capita, the US has 6.84 chickens per person, while the Chinese have 3.60 per person. With those figures, it's a wonder that wild Turkey was served for the first Thanksgiving in this nation.
Hawaii, or Kauai to be specific, has the largest population of wild or feral chickens in the entire world. There are several rules of thought on why there are so many wild chickens. Some believe because of the explorers that left chickens on the lands, others believe the Sugar Cane laborers raised chickens for food and cock fighting in the 1800s to the 1900s and those chickens got loose and multiplied. Yet others believe the hurricanes in 1992 that destroyed the chicken farms, releasing the chickens, led to large feral populations.
My own belief is that it was likely a combination of all these factors. Those chickens live off the land and perhaps will be considered the modern version of a landrace, where they breed by natural selection and adapt to the environment of carrion, fruit, seeds and vegetation.
When we think of the explorers that traveled the world seeking new lands for trade and conquer, we think primarily of the spices, herbs and goods they brought with them. I doubt many think about the chickens that we enjoy today as part of the goods they shared around the world.
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