The chicken has become one of the staple foods across the world. Everyone from regular people to athletes consumes chicken meat as one of the primary sources of protein. Their eggs are also a great source of nutrients necessary for a person to stay healthy. Apart from the head, every part of the chicken is edible.
The five countries that consume the most chicken meat are Australia, the United States, Argentina, Israel, and the United Kingdom. But why did we even start eating so much of it? If we go back in history, we can find evidence that people bred chickens as early as 6,000 years ago. When we compare today’s chickens to the bird they originated from, we can see that they underwent a bevy of changes.
A recent study has shown that the genes that helped create the modern-day chicken date back to Medieval Europe. Interestingly, Medieval Europe’s religious rituals might be to blame here. By analyzing bones of the ancient chickens found during recent excavations scientists were able to determine how much precisely those religious rituals helped to create today’s chickens.
The chicken as we know it today started becoming common around 800 A.D. This coincided with the spread of Catholicism across Europe. At the time Christianity was enforcing a ban on the slaughter and consumption of four-legged animals during fasts. This really helped the chicken rise in prominence as one of the primary protein sources. Additional changes in their genetics over the years helped as well.
Further analysis of the bones of chickens from that period showed a new variant of the TSHR gene emerged around 800 A.D. and quickly spread across Europe. This gene variant is responsible for the chicken’s ability to lay eggs all year round, not just at a specific time of the year. Wild chickens, on the other hand, lay eggs only during mating season. The same gene makes the domesticated chickens start laying eggs at a younger age. The chickens also stopped being afraid of humans, and they also stopped being aggressive towards other chickens as well. All of these traits proved beneficial when it came to breeding chickens in captivity.
Farmers went on to further streamline the breed as they began choosing chickens with a more even temper. They also picked chickens which showed that they could produce more eggs on average. In doing this, the farmers spread the TSHR gene even further. Today there are almost no chickens which do not possess this gene. It is safe to say that nearly 99 percent of today’s chickens possess this gene, covering all of the commercial breeds available today.
It is safe to say that if you bought a chicken in the market recently, you can thank the Middle Ages for it being the way it is. The reason is that the chicken farms that supply stores and restaurants with most of the chicken available today might not have been possible without the gene that lowers aggression.
The bigger question here is whether Catholicism really had any effect on all of this. As with anything that occurred so far back, it is difficult to say what exactly happened. There is another theory floating around, and that is that the main reason for the evolution of chickens is urbanization. Urbanization reached one of its many highs during that time, and it is entirely possible that smaller animals that needed less space were much more practical. The fact that the chickens stopped pecking each other to death helped as well.