I think it would surprise people just how much chicken we consume every year. The World Economic Forum estimates that chickens slaughtered for consumption number 50 billion annually. That’s a LOT of chicken.
With this kind consumption, it would be easy to think that we will run out of chickens in fairly short order. However, where ever there is demand, there will be supply.
Chickens will never go extinct as the domestic breeds are in too high of a demand for the poultry industry to let them disappear. Also, the Red Jungle Fowl, which is thought to be the origin of today’s backyard chicken, still thrives today in its natural environment. This implies that humans would be able to ‘start over’ should there ever be a catastrophic loss to our current domesticated breeds of chicken.
Between these two factors, it’s safe to assume that chickens will be with us for a long, long time…regardless of how many we consume.
It’s also worth noting that these birds are blessed with a highly productive reproduction system, and as such, do not require significant effort to increase their numbers. To validate this concept, consider this; if chickens were in limited supply, then they wouldn’t be so inexpensive to eat. It is because they are so easy to replace that we are able to consume as many as we do.
Can Chickens Survive Without Humans?
Humans have an amazing ability to change their environment. I would dare say that out of all the species living on this planet, humans have made the biggest impact. Sometimes this has been for good and sometimes… well… sadly, not so much.
As a species, we have the ability to plan ahead and move towards a goal. What’s really remarkable about this behavior, is that the goal can be something that’s never been realized before. Domestication displays this perfectly.
Take dogs for example. The wide range of traits exhibited by today’s breed of canine is vastly broader than it ever would have been without the extensive effort of humans. However, it is also worth noting that without the continual input from us, a lot of these unique traits would disappear.
Chickens are no exception to this.
A quick glance at my favorite online hatchery shows 40+ different breeds of chicken available for purchase – of the brown egg laying type alone! This does not include any of the birds that lay white eggs, blue eggs or green eggs. Nor does this include any of the meat breeds available.
It really is remarkable what careful breeding has done to produce this homestead fowl. But much like the canine mentioned above, these birds require input from their human caretakers.
The average domesticated chicken will not survive without direct human input. And there are two main reasons for this; predators and available nutrition.
- Predators – Each ecosystem has its own unique way of keeping balance. Domesticated animals are variables that we have introduced from outside the original equation, and as such, there are (generally) natural checks in place to ensure the necessary balance. In other words, what we call ‘domesticated animals’ might actually be an ‘invasive species’ to the creatures that have lived there for centuries. In this situation, a predator’s job – in the grand scheme of things – is to stop the new variable before it wrecks the natural balance.
- Nutrition – One of our favorite breeds of chicken is the Black Australorp. This amazing bird is a great egg-layer, producing up to 240 eggs per year. And while it is beneficial for us to have this kind of egg production, this high output does require a large amount of calcium in the chicken’s diet. It is unlikely that my flock would be able to find the necessary calcium that they require on their own. Even with a free-range of several acres, the environment simply does not provide this. Consequently, their diet would be deficient and the flock would most likely suffer from poor health.
It’s worth noting, that while the average domesticated chicken would be hard pressed to survive, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a few would. For the ones that do survive, they would most likely pass on traits that fit into the original ecosystem. In other words, nature would breed the domestic out of them and a whole new bird would emerge.
Are Chickens Endangered?
With worldwide wildlife population in decline, it’s natural to worry about the chicken that started it all – the Red Jungle Fowl. And while this breed is significantly different from their more populous domesticated cousins, their survival is not ‘currently’ in doubt.
The conservation status for the Red Jungle Fowl is currently labeled as ‘LC’ – which stands for ‘least concerned’. This label is determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and shares a spot with the lower risk category.
But while the originator for backyard chickens is not at risk, their status does not extend to all of the breeds of chicken that are available. There are some breeds of domesticated chicken that are at risk. For an up to date list of chicken breeds currently at risk, visit The Livestock Conservancy.
Why Are Chickens Important To The World?
If you stop to think of just how many people eat chicken, it can be quite sobering. This planet is a pretty big place and yet this industrious little bird has found its way to almost all of it. Not only is that an incredible feat, but it shows us just how important this bird really is!
A chicken’s immeasurable value to humanity, lies in their incredible contribution to our diet. These amazing birds give us a steady and easily obtained supply of protein via their eggs and their meat.
As chicken is currently the second most consumed meat in the world, the absence of this bird would put a significant strain on food supplies ‘globally’.
How Do Chickens Help Humans?
When you hold a tiny chick that has just hatched and you know how much is required before they can care for themselves, it’s kind of hard to think of them being of any help to you. But in reality, that’s exactly what they are.
As mentioned above, not only do chickens provide us with food – at a relatively low cost to us, but they can also provide us with insulation and comfort through the use of their feathers. Another way chickens can help us is through their waste, as this can be converted to fertilizer.
And if that wasn’t enough, when employed on a small backyard scale, they also serve to improve our health by removing insects that can be harmful to us – namely the Tick, a parasite which is known to transfer Lyme disease.
There is also a therapeutic benefit to these birds. Whether you are hand-feeding them treats or simply watching their busy antics, having a flock to manage can really benefit your mental state, as well as, grow your appreciation for life. Having a group of animals rely on you, adds a sort of primal perspective and this can go a long ways towards balancing an existence that is generally separate from nature.