Right around Independence Day, I start thinking about my own roots. It’s a good time for vacationing near historic sights, exploring heritage, delving into the mysteries of fore-fathers (and mothers).
I thought you might be interested, as am I, in the history of the domestic chicken.
When researching my genealogical roots, I start with myself and go backwards through generations. Let’s try to do that with our domestic chicken. Some of the chickens in our original flock were Buff Orpingtons, so I’m going to use that breed as our first “generation”.
No. 1. Buff Orpington. Friendly bird, excellent brown egg layer, good mother. Heat and cold tolerant, dual purpose.
No. 2. The English introduced the Buff Orpington chicken to North America in the late 1800’s. (References found HERE and HERE.) It was exhibited at the Madison Square Garden Poultry Show (New York) in 1899.
No. 3. The Orpington chicken was developed in 1886 by William Cook, from Orpington, England (County of Kent). The first of the breed were Black Orpingtons. The Buff Orpington was developed as the bird became popular in America. (Reference: United Orpington Club.) You can read more about William Cook and the development of the breed HERE.
No. 4 The Orpington is a careful cross of these even older breeds of chicken: Minorca, Langshans and Plymouth Rocks. (This reference is from Wikipedia, but the footnotes there indicate a further reference to Esther Verhoff’s “The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens”.)
Still with me?
No. 5a. Minorca: Imported to England in 1834. “The Minorca chicken takes its name for the Island of Minorca, off the coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean, where it once could be found in large numbers.” (www.livestockconservancy.org.)
6a. May have been imported from Africa, or have come to Spain with the Romans.
Known to have been living in the ancient region of Castile.
5b. Langshans: Imported to England from China in 1877. “Named ‘Langshan’ after district around the Yangtszekiang River from which they came – about 100 miles from Shanghai – Major A.C. Croad of England was the first to import this unique breed.” (Livestock Conservancy)
5c. Plymouth Rock: According to the Livestock Conservancy, the Plymouth Rock was developed in America, first exhibited in Boston in 1849, and of the Barred Variety. Several breeders claimed they had first developed the line, “using crosses of Spanish, White Cochin, Dominique, Buff Cochin, Black Java, and Brahma.”
Rather than trace the historic roots of the Plymouth Rock, let’s go back to “6a” and jump right into the idea of chickens in Africa and Rome. My continuing research allowed me to discover that the Romans not only raised chickens, they considered them sacred, and referred to them as oracles. (Read more HERE.) Apparently, the future could (can?) be divined from the way chickens eat their grain.
Finally, there’s a delightful article from Smithsonian.com, “How The Chicken Conquered The World“. This story follows the development of the domestic chicken back through ancient Rome (and Greece), to exotic menageries in Egypt, into the Indus Valley in 2000 B.C. where they are mentioned on cuneiform tablets. It continues through the jungles of Southeast Asia where the red jungle fowl shares DNA with our bird of today…back even further to the original chicken, which happened to be a dinosaur.
How about THAT??
Over the years, I’ve traced my own genealogy back across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain and Germany. I’ll continue tracing, because I find it interesting to connect my history with events and other lands. And for this weekend, I found it fascinating to learn more about the heritage of my fluffy Buff Orpington hens.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip back in time, too.