This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The cock is the well-known chieftain of the poultry-yard, and rural announcer of the passage of time, whose shrill clarion, heard in the still watches of the night, inspires the restless and invalid with cheering hopes of the coming dawn, and informs the wayworn traveller of his approach to human habitation, where domesticated, but not subdued, he marches at the head of his train of wives and offspring with a port of proud defiance, not less ready to punish aggression against his dependents than to assert his superiority upon the challenge of any rival. At what time this valuable species of pheasant was brought under the immediate control of man it is now impossible to determine; but as the forests of many parts of India still abound with several varieties of the cock in the wild or natural condition, it is quite reasonable to conclude that the race was first domesticated in the eastern countries, and gradually extended thence to the rest of the world. The cock is always more splendid in plumage than the hen, and when in good health and full plumage his movements and gestures seem all influenced by consciousness of personal beauty and courage: his stately march and frequent triumphant crowing express confidence in his strength and bravery.
His sexual powers are matured when he is about six months old, and his full vigour lasts for about three years.
The hen is ready to commence laying after she has moulted or changed her plumage, and is not at the trouble of making a regular nest. A simple hole scratched in the ground in some retired place serves her purpose, and she generally lays from twelve to fifteen eggs before she begins to sit upon them for the purpose of hatching. In sitting she becomes a model of enduring patience, remaining fixed in her place until the urgency of hunger forces her to go in quest of food: then a short time suffices for running eagerly about in quest of sustenance, and soon resumes her charge. In twenty-one days the incubation is completed, and when the whole of the young birds are hatched out she leads them forth in search of food. With her brood her natural timidity departs, for she fiercely and vigorously attacks all aggressors, watches over the safety of her young with the utmost jealousy, neglects the demands of her own appetite to divide the food she may obtain among her nurslings, and labours with untiring diligence to provide them sufficient sustenance.
Fowl (Anglo-Saxon, fugel, a bird, connected with the verb to fly) is a term now used to designate the genus Gallus, of which the common barn-door fowl is a familiar example. There are several examples of the genus Gallus, such as the Jungle Fowl, a native of India, which is rather less than the domestic fowl. The Bankiva Jungle Fowl, now supposed to be the original stock of the domesticated poultry, is a native of Java, the male closely resembling the English gamecock. The Co chin-China Fowl is a large, ungainly bird, chiefly valuable for its fecundity, eggs being laid during winter. The Game Fowl is noted for its pugnacity, bright plumage, and excellent flesh. The Dorkings are short-legged, round-bodied, plump, and excellent for table. The Spanish is a very fine variety, glossy black, excellent in flesh, and the hens regular layers. The Bantam, a puny little member of the tribe, mostly kept for fancy, and for sitting partridge eggs. The common Barn-door Fowl is a compound of various breeds, therefore of no particular one, no pains being taken to prevent crossing.
Of the various breeds the most in request for hatching pheasant eggs are the lighter-weight hens of the Barn-door Fowl and the Silver Wyandotte Fowl, as they are quiet, excellent mothers, clean legged, not too heavy, and also first-rate layers.
The food of the fowl consists of grain and other hand-prepared substances supplied betimes by the owner; and when given run of farmstead and environs, or grassy places with plantations of sheltering trees, the fowl feeds upon the young shoots of plants, insects of all kinds, woodlice, millepedes, slugs, worms, etc., berries, grass seeds, etc. The way the fowl shows its fondness for insect food by scratching is remarkable, and the number of wireworms and grubs unearthed and devoured is astonishing. Of course fowls must be kept out of gardens by proper netting protection, then, given free run of the homestead's adjacent ground, and not in danger of trespassing on another person's enclosure, they profit by destroying pests and by enriching the soil.
Fig. 144. - The Old English Game.
The utility of brood-hens and their chickens in grass orchards is noteworthy, for they do an immense amount of beneficent work by destroying insects and manuring the ground. Likewise on any grass land not physically unfit, poultry-rearing thereon "tells a tale," both as regards clearance of insects and aftergrowth of herbage. Even in pleasure grounds a "clucking" hen in a coop here and there with her chickens at liberty in daytime does much good, provided the coop and hen be shifted betimes and the family cleared away in due course.
In fruit plantations hens with broods of chickens cooped on grassy roadways are useful, and free adults somewhat helpful in destroying ground pests and for disposing of aerial ones dislodged by wind or shaken down by the grower. Where low bush fruits, however, are grown, fowls help themselves to berries, of which they are little less fond than of insects, and must therefore be withdrawn before the "poults" are of such size as to be capable of mischief. In gardens and vegetable grounds domestic fowls are out of place, as they always scratch in the wrong place, consume almost every kind of crop, and delight, even as chickens, in such plants as young onions, succulent lettuces, etc.