The chicken in human civilization

The chicken and its role in human civilization

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The chicken, descended from the dinosaurs, is probably a distant relative of the T Rex. Originally known as the Red jungle bird, it minded its own business in the jungles of South East Asia and might have stayed there were it not for a peculiar genetic trait, as males, using their natural leg spurs, fight to the death in the mating season.


"Cock-fight between the personifications of victory and defeat" in ancient Rome
“Cock-fight between the personifications of victory and defeat” in ancient Rome    (Source:


Humans found this exciting and have betted on the outcome of gamecock fights for over 5000 years. Although the sport is illegal in most countries, Sabong is still an obsession in the Philippines where the World Slasher Cup draws thousands to watch and bet on cock fights. The roosters in this contest are mostly imports from the US and are cosseted by their owners like gladiators, Filipino men are said to treat their roosters better than their wives, although they seldom last more than a couple of sessions in the Sabungan or cockpit.





For millennia, chickens were moved throughout the known world for contests and gained a glorious reputation along the way. Seen as symbols of courage, they had cities named after them and featured in Socrates’s last words,” Crito we owe a cock to Asclepius, don’t forget to pay the debt.” Cocks then became symbols of the Christian church for their valor, although they were also mentioned in Peter’s denial after Jesus’s arrest. Pope Nicholas in the 900’s decreed that the image of a cock should be placed at the top of church steeples where they remain as weather cocks.

Sir Francis Bacon (Source:
Sir Francis Bacon (Source:


Francis Bacon, an introducer of the scientific method, caught pneumonia in 1626 while stuffing a dead chicken with snow in an effort to prove that cold preserves flesh and died three days later. He is still known in some quarters as the patron saint of chickens.

Ironically refrigeration played a significant role in the chicken’s ascent to world supremacy.

Kept by farmers’ wives, chicken eggs and birds were a source of “pin money” until Wilma Steele of Delaware upped the ante in the 1920’s. Initially raising 500 birds for the table, this soon grew as their dependency on vitamin D, discovered in the 1920’s, was satisfied by the addition of cod liver oil to their feed and allowed chickens to be kept throughout the winter indoors.


The depression in the 1930’s encouraged animal feed companies like Perdue and Tyson to develop their business by supplying chicks and feed directly to farmers who paid once the chickens were sold. But it was in the 1950’s that a combination of specially bred chickens, Cornish Cross or Cornish Rock , commercial refrigeration, special feeds and a rising popularity for chicken, encouraged by Colonel Harland Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, that the consumption of chicken really took off.


Cornish Cross Broilers (Source:
Cornish Cross Broilers (Source:

In South Africa, the commercial chicken or broiler industry was started in 1960 by Stanley Methven, a bit of a game cock himself, who raised chickens on his father’s farm in Hammarsdale for sale in Durban. By 1963 he had opened an abattoir and in 1970 the MD of Kentucky Fried Chicken found himself in South Africa on Safari with his family. Impressed by what he saw, he made contact with Stanley and the rest is history in that by the time of his untimely death in 1986 Stanley Methven was one of South Africa’s wealthiest people.

Chicken is now the world’s most popular source of animal protein and chickens outnumber humans by a factor of 10 to one, although they don’t have quite the same lifespan!

They are raised from chicks to approximately 2 kg birds in about 35 days and convert meal to flesh in a ratio of just under 2 to 1. For an increasingly urbanized world they are a perfect food source and will remain so which is why we see so much frozen chicken in our cold stores.

Chicken suppliers around South Africa store their frozen chicken products on STORAX mobile racking – Store more pallets in less space!

Contact us to find out how:

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