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Booklet on the hen

A new booklet published by the Danish Museum of Natural History, written by senior scientist Poul Sørensen from Aarhus University, covers the subject of hens and chickens in an easily approachable way.

A new booklet from the Danish Museum of Natural History is filled with lots of interesting information about poultry. Photo: Janne Hansen

It does not tell you which came first, the chicken or the egg, but the booklet ”The Hen” does, nevertheless, provide a whole lot of other exciting bits of information on hens and chickens. It is written by senior scientist Poul Sørensen and published by the Danish Museum of Natural History.

Historic finds show that humans have kept poultry for 7,400 years and that the domesticated chicken has been kept as livestock for 4,000 years. Beyond providing eggs and meat, chickens have been used in religious rituals and for cock fighting. There are also many people who keep pure-bred chickens solely to enjoy and – and in some cases – compete with their pretty plumages and colourful combs.

From egg to eggs and meat

In easily understandable and clear language, the chicken's route from egg to adult is described. Its normal behaviour and its unwanted behaviour with regard to feather-pecking and cannibalism are also dealt with.

In modern agriculture the chicken is a specialist. Some are used purely for meat production, while others are dedicated to egg production. Targeted breeding and technology have made it possible to streamline the animals so they are incredibly productive. With artificial insemination, a single cockerel can become a great grandfather to 87.5 million offspring, so it is obvious that the good genes can spread with lightning speed.

Breeding is not just used to make production more effective. It is also used in the breeding of pure-bred chickens, in which different comb shapes, dwarfism or plumage are targeted.

The modern production systems, which include caged hens free range hens, broiler chickens, organic egg and meat production as well as hobby farming, are reviewed in order to provide an understanding of the differences, benefits and disadvantages of each – and might inspire new chicken farmers.

The booklet (in Danish) can be ordered from the Danish Museum of Natural History here.

Further information: Senior scientist Poul Sørensen, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, e-mail:poul.sorensen@agrsci.dk