The Chief Kinds Of Poultry
( Originally Published 1918 )
DIFFERENT kinds of poultry, the originals of our domestic species, are living to this day in a wild state in the forests of Asia, notably in India, and in the Philippine Islands and Java. The most noteworthy is the Bankiva or red jungle fowl. In shape, plumage, and habits the male bird bears a striking resemblance to the common rooster of our poultry-yards; but in size it is smaller even than the partridge. It has a scalloped red comb, a tail of arched plumage, and a neck ornamented with a falling tippet of bright, golden-red feathers. This graceful little cock, irritable and full of fight, has the habits of ours. He struts proudly at the head of his flock of hens, over whose safety he watches with extreme care. If hunters range the forest, or if some dog prowls in the neighborhood, the vigilant bird, quick to perceive, suspects an enemy. He immediately flies to a high branch and thence gives forth a cry of alarm to warn the hens, which hastily conceal themselves under the leaves or crouch in the hollows of trees and wait motionless until the danger is past. To get within gunshot of these birds is well-nigh impossible, and to capture them one must have recourse to the same snares one uses for catching larks."
"A fowl smaller than a partridge, and that they catch in the woods with snares for larks," remarked Jules, "ought to be a very pretty bird, but not of much use if raised in poultry-yards. Does our poultry come from such a small kind as that!"
"It certainly comes either from the Bankiva fowl or from other kinds just as small that live in a wild state in the forests of Asia; but when and how the hen and the cock became domesticated is wholly unknown. From the dawn of history man has been in possession of the barnyard fowl, at least in Asia, whence later the species came to us already domesticated. During long centuries, improved by our care, which assures it abundant food and comfortable shelter, the original small species has produced numerous varieties differing much in size and plumage. They are classed in three groups : the small, the medium, and the large.
"To the first group belongs the bantam or little English fowl, about the size of a partridge. It is a beautiful bird with short legs that let the tips of the wings drag on the ground, quick movements, gentle and tame habits. Its eggs, proportioned to the small size of the hen, weigh scarcely thirty grams apiece, while those of other hens weigh from sixty to ninety grams each. These pretty little pullets are raised rather as ornaments to the poultry-yard than for the sake of their diminutive eggs."
"These little fowl," observed Louis, "look from their size like the primitive kind."
"Yes, it was about like that they looked when man took it into his head to tame the wild fowl. In the poultry-yards of those times lived, not the large species of our day, but birds as small in body and as quick on the wing as the partridge. I leave you to imagine what care and vigilance were necessary in order not to frighten these timid little fowl and cause them to go back to the woods that they still remembered."
It must have been as much trouble," said Louis, "as it would be for us to tame a covey of partridges. Such an undertaking would not be easy. We are a long way from those first attempts at domestication with our hens of today, so tame, so importunate even, that they come boldly and pick up crumbs under the very table."
"The common poultry, that which stocks the greater number of farms, belongs to the medium-sized breeds. Its plumage is of all colors, from white to red and black. Its head is small and ornamented with a red comb, sometimes single, sometimes double, coquettishly thrown to one side. The cock, for its proud bearing and magnificent plumage, has no equal among the other species. The common fowl is the easiest to keep, for its activity permits it to seek and find for itself, by scratching in the ground, a great part of its food in the form of seeds and worms. It may be found fault with for its wandering proclivities, favored by a strong wing which it avails itself of to fly over hedges and fences, to go and devastate the neighboring gardens.
"Among the other medium-sized species which, associated with the common fowl, are found in poultry-yards as ornaments rather than as sources of profit, I will name the following:
"First, the Paduan fowl, recognizable by its rich plumage and particularly by the thick tuft of feathers that adorns its head. This beautiful headdress of fine plumage, so proudly spread out in fine weather, is, when once wet by rain, nothing but an ungraceful rag, heavy and tangled, which tires the bird and makes the rustic life of the poultry-yard impossible as far as it is concerned.
"The Houdan fowl wears a thickly tufted top-knot which is thrown back over the nape of the neck. Sometimes this headdress covers the eyes so completely that the bird cannot see in front nor sidewise, but only on the ground, which makes it uneasy at the slightest noise. The plumage is speckled black and white, with glints of purple and green. The cheeks and the base of the beak are draped with little upturned feathers. Each foot has five toes instead of four, the usual number—not counting the cock's spur, which is simply a horn, a fighting weapon, and not a toe. Three of the toes point forward and two backward.
"The fowl of la Flèche, so renowned for the delicacy of its flesh and its aptness for fattening, has no crest and is long-legged, with black plumage of green and purple luster. The legs are blue and the comb rises in two little red horns.
"Similar but better developed horns, accompanied by a thick headdress of feathers, adorn the Crevecceur species. The hen is a beautiful black; the cock wears, against body plumage of the same dark color, a rich gold or silver tippet.
"Finally, to the large species belongs the Cochin-China, an ungraceful bird, with very strong body and shapeless and disordered plumage, generally reddish white. Its eggs are brownish in color."