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Friendly Fowl

Martha introduces Marc Morrone to her pet chickens.

The Martha Stewart Show, July 2008

When you think of pet birds, parrots are probably one of the first birds that come to mind. If you have a big enough yard and are zoned in the right area, then you can actually raise poultry as pets. Chickens, ducks, and geese are all domesticated social animals. When they realize we're not going to eat them, they are quick to incorporate us into their family groups.

Chickens are the domesticated red jungle fowl, a pheasant native to Southeast Asia. They were domesticated 8,000 years ago for their meat and eggs, as well as for cockfighting. The domestic breeds that we know today look very little like their original ancestors.

Maran is not an old breed of chicken, but it is a rare breed in North America. Marans are a first-class utility fowl, but Americans are mostly interested in them for their eggs, which are extremely dark brown. The breed gets its name from the French town of Marans.

White Leghorn Rooster Bantam
The Leghorn is the breed used commercially to produce white eggs for supermarkets. Leghorns and their descendents are the most numerous breed in America today. Most produce white eggs, but some lay brown eggs. Leghorns take their name from the city of Livorno, Italy, where the breed originated.

White Leghorn Bantam
Bantams are miniature chickens weighing only 1 or 2 pounds. They lay smaller eggs than large chickens; three bantam eggs are roughly equal to two regular eggs. Some bantams are small versions of bigger breeds but one-fifth to one-fourth the size; for example, the leghorn, the Cornish, or the Rhode Island Red. Other bantams come only in the miniature version. Bantam breeds are popular as pets because they need less room and they eat less than larger breeds.

The Phoenix is a single-comb, oriental breed that is noted for the long tail on the male chicken.

Polish chickens are unique because they have a crest of feathers on their heads. The name Polish didn't come from these chickens' place of origin -- which is actually the Netherlands -- but from their poll or feathery crown.

Jersey Giant
Jersey giants are large birds that were developed in the 1870s in New Jersey to meet the demand for heavy fowl. They are the largest breed in the American Class.

Our domestic ducks were bred from wild mallards in China. They differ considerably in size and color, but they were all bred down from the familiar mallard. The only exception is the Muscovy, which is the descendent of the wild Muscovy duck from South America.

English Call Ducks
English call ducks are popular little ducks bred to have a loud quack in order to be used as decoys on lakes to attract wild ducks into the area. They usually only quack loudly if separated from their mate. They are the favorite show breed of duck and are bred to a very high standard. They come in a variety of colors, and were originally called the decoy but the name changed to call around the 1890s.

Muscovy Ducks
The Muscovy duck originated in Brazil and is the only domestic duck that is not derived from mallard stock. Wild muscovies coloration is black and white, but domestication has produced many different colors. Muscovies are unique because of the bright red crest around the eyes and above the beak.

Geese are amusing and intelligent birds; domestication hasn't erased their sense of humor. Domestic geese are descendents of the European grey lag goose and the Chinese swan goose. All species of geese are interactive and make great watchdogs, as they always let you know if anything unusual is going on.

Chinese Goose
The Chinese goose comes from China and is related to the African goose. They are the smallest of the common domestic geese and are often called swan geese because of their carriage and grace. Many people use the Chinese goose for weeding because of their small size and because they are more agile and careful where they step than other breeds. They have been known to lay large quantities of eggs -- more than 100 in a year.

Guinea Fowl
The wild guinea fowl of West Africa is regarded as the original of the domestic stock. The two common varieties are the pearl and the white. Guineas are often kept with other poultry since they seem to get along with other fowl. They are protection from hawks and are good night guards against thieves because they have a peculiar screaming when disturbed. Many feel the best thing about them is that they love to eat ticks.

Caring for Fowl
All poultry are large birds that eat a lot a food and have copious droppings so, realistically speaking, keeping them indoors is not a good idea. Plus, the scales on their feet and their toenails need the friction of walking on abrasive surfaces outdoors. Before you decide to add some of these birds to your yard, be sure to check your local building and zoning laws to make sure keeping them is legal in your town.

Special Thanks
Marc Morrone, pet expert
Parrots of the World

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