In the life of a typical Bangladeshi of any age, the presence of chicken is all but guaranteed. Whether as a meal component once a day or once a month, as a way to keep our mouths busy while we chatter away with friends, or a safe dish to impress guests with, chicken is ubiquitous.
Often, we forget to think of chicken as anything but a farmed bird that lives out its life only to indulge ourselves. They look uniform and bland, stay in sturdy enclosures, fed and watered following a strict schedule – the farmed chicken even die on schedule.
But what about the chicken that look like runway models with vibrant plumage and arrogant strut? What about the ones that are bred exclusively as game birds?
Chickens are remarkable in terms of food, feathers and fight. Let's think out of the box, out of the poultry farms and look for chickens in their natural habitats.
Before the saga of fried chicken began all over the world, the "Gallus gallus" or red jungle fowl were just another species of bird in Asia, its habitat stretching from China to India. Their domestication started somewhere around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. They were first reared for the purpose of fighting, in Asia, Africa and Europe. It has been suggested that chicken domestication might have started in the Indus Valley Civilisation. From there, it continued to disperse across the world.
The chicken arrived in Egypt as fighter birds and exotic pets. Egyptians were the first to develop a system of artificial incubation. Architects uncovered chicken bones from the Mediterranean that are from about 800 BC, indicating their presence during the Roman era. With time it became a major source of meat to humans everywhere, and then, with the advent of the 21st century, chicken fry became a symbol of modern times. The chicken we know now is Gallus gallus domesticus, a subspecies of their wild counterparts.
When we think of "deshi" chicken we often think only of a nondescript black, red or white chicken strutting around a village courtyard. But there are quite a few types of local breeds of chicken, namely, deshi, aseel, hilly and even wild or jungle fowl.
The type of chicken we call "deshi" is more common, with reddish-brown to black plumage. These are traditionally reared in rural households for eggs and meat.
Naked neck chicken is less abundant nowadays, but are seen in some rural areas. Both deshi and naked neck chicken are found in the plain lands.
Aseel chicken is of Sarail and Chattogram type. It is renowned as a game bird. They tend to be leaner than the other deshi kinds of chicken. Another type of chicken can be found in the textbooks which is called Malay of Chittagong Hill Tracts breed of chicken – a game bird. They are also said to be found in the hilly areas.
Hilly chicken tends to look quite similar to deshi type, sporting grey or reddish plumage. But the roosters exhibit impressive colours on their plumage and larger sickle feathers on their tails. These are found in the hilly areas of the country. Rarely some dwarf chicken and wild chicken or red jungle fowl can also be seen.
The type of chicken we call deshi is really the local common indigenous type. This species of chicken exhibits a multitude of colours and plumage patterns, so much so that some mistake them to be of different kinds, explained Dr Md Anwarul Hoque Beg, chairman of the department of poultry science, Sher-E-Bangla Agricultural University.
"Production of the indigenous chicken is very low, so there is not a lot of information on them," he stated.
Registered veterinary practitioner Dr Md Rabiul Hasan remarked on the recent increase in the commercial farming of local pure breed chickens. It is certainly true that Deshi chicken produces less meat and eggs compared to hybrids and thus their farming cost is high. However, the demand and market price of Deshi chicken products are also high and therein lies the promise of profit. According to Dr Hasan, the farming of hybrid chicken is actually declining due to this reason.