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Which came first: Easter eggs or chicken farms?
An English rose in Georgia
Lesley Francis - 2016
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and made Georgia her home in 2009. - photo by File photo

I always look forward to Easter weekend. It represents the start of warmer weather, longer days and flowering plants – and some quality pool time is now not far away.

There are a lot of traditions and symbols associated with Easter, from the Easter bunny to Easter parades. Apparently, the famous rabbit was introduced to America by German immigrants who brought with them stories of an egg-laying hare.

Rabbits and hares, as well as eggs and chicks, are often associated with Easter. This goes back to Pagan times, when these were seen as signs of fertility and new life. The early Christians adopted this theme, and it worked well alongside the story of the resurrection and having new life through Jesus.

Everywhere you turn this time of year, there are Easter cards, children’s books and toys, all telling a sweet story of fluffy chicks. While can tell you more about how these and other animals link into the story of Easter, all the cute little chicks you see everywhere right now got me thinking about what those fluffy chicks turn into: chickens!

The history of chickens living alongside humans goes back to the period known as the Neolithic Revolution (8000 to 3000 BC), when agricultural communities began to form.

Archaeologists have found evidence that chickens were first used for cockfighting or other rituals associated with certain pagan religions, and the domestication of chickens dates back about 10,000 years.

It is believed that the chickens we know today are descended from the red jungle fowl in Southeast Asia. These birds browsed on the forest floor for insects, seeds and fruit, and were limited in their ability to fly, which made them appealing to humans seeking to capture and raise them.

About 2,000 years ago, chickens first began to be eaten in significant numbers – originating in Israel, and then spreading throughout the world.

Apparently, the Romans loved to feast on chicken and bred them in large numbers. But after the fall of Rome, the big farms disappeared and the art of chicken breeding was lost in Europe, although chickens remained a popular food in India, Southeast Asia, China and also across the Middle East.

Perhaps this is not surprising as pork is banned by Jewish and Islamic law, and Hindus treat the cow as sacred. In addition, those living in hot climates with no refrigeration really benefited from the relative convenience of comparatively small chickens, which, after their egg laying days were behind them, could be slaughtered and consumed by a family on the same day.

In Europe during medieval times, chickens were smaller and laid fewer eggs than today, so birds like geese and partridge replaced them in popularity. And when Europeans travelled to the American continent, they took chickens with them. But in comparison to geese and ducks, chickens remained a minor source of food. When turkeys were found in the new world, they quickly became the more important poultry meat in the U.S.

In the early 20th century, when techniques for high volume farming were invented, there was a resurgence in the popularity of chicken in Europe and the U.S. Chickens could be farmed very efficiently and provided some of the cheapest meat available.

In the U.S., chicken became a popular main dish on the dinner table during World War II due to a shortage of beef and pork, and it has remained popular in part as awareness of healthy eating continues to grow.

Chicken meat has two to three times as much polyunsaturated fats, which are the "good" type of fats, than most types of red meat.

There are now at least 20 billion chickens in the world, and this meat is the most common type of poultry. Chicken now rivals pig meat as the most common human food source of animal protein.

You have probably heard the age-old question of "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" many times. But did you know that it was only in the late 1950s that the phrase, "It’s a chicken and egg situation," came into use?

God bless America and happy Easter!

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