In Brief: Modern Chickens are Easy-Going Birds


Image via poppy (Flickr)

Past chicken domesticators selected for traits that provided larger chickens and larger eggs — or at least that’s what researchers have always thought. But our ancestors may have merely selected for the traits that were easiest to manage, and happy byproducts of those selections were more meat and more eggs.

A September study at Linköping University in Sweden suggests that when domesticating animals, our ancestors chose traits that were easy to care for, rather than the most meat-producing. In this study, scientists took the red jungle fowl – the wild relative of today’s common chicken –  and bred it for domestication. They selected for naturally-reduced fear of humans for one set of chickens, and they selected for naturally-increased fear of humans in the other.

“This method resembled the conditions during the very first stage of fowl husbandry 8,000 years ago,” Beatrix Agnvall, the first author of the study, said in a prepared statement.

The results of this study show that the chickens who did not fear humans had faster metabolisms, grew more, and laid larger eggs – despite not eating more than the fearful chickens.

From the results, Per Jensen, a professor of ethology at the school and head of this study, says, “We can suppose that our ancestors didn’t necessarily select animals because they were good at producing food, but mainly because they were easy to manage.”


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