Poultry is the word that describes any type of bird that humans raise for food, feathers or work. The most common type of poultry in the world is chickens, but turkeys, geese, ducks and others also fall into this category. Birds such as parakeets and parrots are pets and therefore not poultry, but some birds like peacocks and ducks may be both -- pets who are considered poultry.
Chickens provide an affordable source of protein. Each breed is noted for its abilities, looks or other individual characteristics. Commercial growers select chicken breeds that can produce either meat or eggs quickly and economically, typically focusing on a single breed such as the leghorn. Small farm owners often keep dual-purpose chickens like Plymouth Rocks, which provide both meat and eggs, and are attractive to look at as well.
Turkeys are generally raised for meat, not for any eggs they might provide, though farmers will sell the eggs if they have a market for them. Commercial operations tend to prefer the large, meaty white turkeys because they grow fast and look clean once processed, but smaller operations or family farms may choose one of the more colorful breeds such as the Bourbon or the Royal Bronze.
Ducks and geese will choose to live in or around ponds or other water sources if given a choice, but in commercial settings these waterfowl are typically raised in wire cages or are otherwise confined. Both are raised for meat, feathers and down; ducks may also be raised for their eggs. The white Pekin duck is the most popular commercial breed, valued for the ability to produce both meat and eggs.
Ratites are large, exotic birds raised mainly for their meat and feathers, though their eggs are salabale as well. The South American rhea, the emu from Australia and the African ostrich are types of ratites farmed in the United States and around the world. Unlike other types of poultry, ratites produce lean red meat and skin that serves as leather to make coats, purses and shoes. These birds are large and strong. Growers must handle them carefully to avoid being seriously injured.
Various other types of birds that humans raise fall into the poultry group. They include peafowl, Guinea hens, pheasants, quails and pigeons. Some of these birds are raised as sources of meat or eggs, while others end up being released into large hunting preserves where they live as long as they can avoid both predators and hunters. Due to their natural beauty, birds in this group may end up as pets instead of on the dinner table. Pigeons are sometimes eaten, especially young ones, but they also work, carrying messages in capsules affixed to their legs.
- Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School: Cuts and Types of Poultry
- University of Illinois Extension: Poultry
- Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science: Breeds of Poultry
- Ithaca College: Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: Poultry 101