The Chicken—Popular and Plentiful
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN KENYA
THE chicken is probably the most populous bird on earth. According to estimates, there are over 13 billion chickens! And its meat is so popular that more than 73 billion pounds [33 billion kg] of it are consumed each year. Additionally, hens produce some 600 billion eggs a year worldwide.
In Western lands, chicken is plentiful and inexpensive. Decades ago, U.S. voters were promised there would be a chicken in every pot only if a certain candidate was elected. Today, however, chicken is no longer the luxury it was or the preserve of a minority. How did this unique bird become so available and so popular? And what about poorer nations? Is there any chance of their sharing in this abundance?
The Bird’s Record
The chicken is a descendant of the red jungle fowl of Asia. Man soon discovered that the chicken could be domesticated easily. Why, some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ referred to the way a hen gathers her chicks under her protective wings. (Matthew 23:37; 26:34) The use of such an illustration indicates that people in general were quite familiar with this bird. But it was not until the 19th century that mass production of chickens and eggs became a commercial venture.
Today chicken is by far the most popular poultry meat. Chickens are raised by millions of households—including urban families—for domestic and commercial use. In fact, few farm animals are able to breed in as many diverse geographic locations as chickens are. Many countries have developed breeds that are peculiar to their climatic conditions and needs. Some of these include: the Australorp of Australia; the well-known Leghorn, originally from the Mediterranean but quite popular in the United States; the New Hampshire, the Plymouth Rock, the Rhode Island Red, and the Wyandotte, all bred in the United States; and the Cornish, the Orpington, and the Sussex, from England.
Advanced scientific methods of husbandry have made raising chickens one of the most successful agricultural industries. In the United States, farmers use carefully controlled methods of feeding and caging, along with scientific disease control. Many people condemn these mass-production techniques as cruel. But that has not stopped farmers from developing increasingly efficient ways of breeding these birds. Modern techniques now make it possible for just one person to care for from 25,000 to 50,000 chickens. It takes the birds only three months to reach market weight.a
A Source of Meat
Visit virtually any hotel, restaurant, or village eating establishment, and you will rarely fail to see the meat of this domestic fowl on the menu. In fact, many fast-food outlets the world over specialize in serving chicken. There are societies where chicken is still the ideal choice for special occasions. Fascinating ways of serving this bird have been developed in some lands, such as India. Dishes such as red pepper chicken, lal murgi; shredded chicken, kurgi murgi; and chicken smothered in ginger, adrak murgi, delight the palate!
Why does chicken have such popularity? For one thing, few foods blend as well with different flavorings as it does. How do you like it prepared? Fried, roasted, broiled, braised, or stewed? Open just about any cookbook, and you’ll probably find dozens of chicken recipes designed to bring the best out of every piece.
Because of its availability in many countries, chicken is relatively inexpensive as well. It is also a friend of nutritionists, since it contains proteins, vitamins, and minerals that are vital to one’s body. Yet, chicken is low in calories, saturated fats, and other fats.
Feeding Developing Lands
Of course, not all countries have an abundance of poultry products. This is significant in view of the report of a task force for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, which said: “World population is projected to increase to 7.7 billion by the year 2020 . . . However, the majority (95%) of the population increase is forecast to occur in developing countries.” This statement takes on an even more somber tone when you consider that already some 800 million people are suffering from malnutrition!
Nevertheless, many experts feel that the chicken could play a major role both in feeding these hungry populations and in providing much-needed income to farmers. The problem is that large-scale breeding of these birds can be a real challenge for poor farmers. For one thing, in poorer nations chickens are raised mainly on small, rural farms or in backyards. And in such lands, chickens are rarely housed in protective environments. During the day the birds are allowed to roam free and scavenge for food, returning home at night, sometimes to roost in trees or in metal cages.
Not surprisingly, many of the birds raised by such methods die off—some as victims of the deadly Newcastle disease and others as victims of predators, animal and human. Most farmers have neither the know-how nor the means to feed their chickens adequately, to provide proper housing for them, or to protect them from diseases. For this reason programs have been started to help educate farmers in developing lands. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, for example, recently initiated a five-year project “to benefit the rural poor in Africa through increased poultry production.”
It still remains to be seen what will come from such well-intentioned initiatives. It is therefore sobering for residents of wealthier lands to contemplate the fact that something as commonplace as a slice of chicken may be a luxury to most of earth’s inhabitants. For such ones, the idea of a ‘chicken in every pot’ may seem like little more than a distant dream.
a Though chickens are also raised for their eggs, in the United States, 90 percent are raised for their meat.
[Box/Pictures on page 21]
Safe Handling of Raw Poultry
“Raw poultry may harbour potentially harmful organisms, such as salmonella bacteria, so it is vital to take care in its preparation. Always wash your hands, the chopping board, knife and poultry shears in hot soapy water before and after handling the poultry. It is a good idea to use a chopping board that can be washed at high temperature . . . and, if possible, to keep the chopping board just for the preparation of raw poultry. Thaw frozen poultry completely before cooking.”—The Cook’s Kitchen Bible.
[Pictures on page 19]
Some breeds of chicken are the White Leghorn, Gray Jungle Fowl, Orpington, Polish, and Speckled Sussex
All except White Leghorn: © Barry Koffler/www.feathersite.com
[Pictures on page 20]
Efforts are being made to help farmers in developing lands to increase poultry production
[Picture on page 20]
In the United States, 90 percent of chickens are raised for their meat