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How Important Are Chickens?

Why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe to escape its current fate, which began shortly after World War II, when today’s large, meaty chickens were first bred. In 1948, the A&P grocery store chain, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, held a competition called “The Chicken of Tomorrow,” which urged breeders to create bigger, faster-growing chickens. This effort ultimately resulted in modern broiler chickens, which are about four times as heavy as typical chickens from the 1950s. Today, the global chicken population is around 21 billion, making it one of the most populous land vertebrates. An equally shocking statistic is that more than 60 billion chickens are eaten each year. Because chickens are a dietary staple all around the world, future archaeologists will undoubtedly find copious evidence of their fossilized remains. This has led to scientific discussions about how chickens are intrinsically linked to the Anthropocene, a recently-proposed geological epoch that many scientists say began in 1950.

The bird that launched an epoch:

  • A key requirement of an epoch is having an "index fossil" that is found worldwide and is unique enough to distinguish a period of time from what came before.
  • Chickens were domesticated between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago from the red junglefowl, also known by the scientific name Gallus gallus, which is native to Southeast Asia. The wild bird flew poorly, making it easy to catch.
  • Broilers are usually slaughtered at around seven weeks of age after a brief life at a factory farm, where they are housed exclusively indoors, in confined spaces. They don’t survive well if allowed to get bigger.
Discussion Comments
By anon1000765 — On Dec 20, 2018

60 billion chickens are eaten every year? I'm sorry, that is just pathetic and very sad. Turkeys too. There is no need for this. People are taking animals lives & turning them into "our daily food regimens".. There are a thousand things to eat.

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