The word “poultry” comes from the Middle English “pultrie”, from Old French pouletrie, from pouletier, poultry dealer, from poulet, pullet. The word “pullet” itself comes from Middle English pulet, from Old French polet, both from Latin pullus, a young fowl, young animal or chicken. The word “fowl” is of Germanic origin (cf. Old English Fugol, German Vogel, Danish Fugl).
“Poultry” is a term used for any kind of domesticated bird, captive-raised for its utility, and traditionally the word has been used to refer to wildfowl (Galliforms) and waterfowl (Anseriformes).
“Poultry” can be defined as domestic fowls, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks, raised for the production of meat or eggs and the word is also used for the flesh of these birds used as food.
Chickens are medium-sized, chunky birds with an upright stance and characterized by fleshy red combs and Wattles on their heads. Males, known as cocks, are usually larger, more boldly colored, and have more exaggerated plumage than females (hens). Chickens are gregarious, omnivorous, ground-dwelling birds that in their natural surroundings search among the leaf litter for seeds, invertebrates, and other small animals. They seldom fly except as a result of perceived danger, preferring to run into the undergrowth if approached.
Ducks are medium-sized aquatic birds with broad bills, eyes on the side of the head, fairly long necks, short legs set far back on the body, and webbed feet. Males, known as drakes, are often larger than females (simply known as ducks) and are differently coloured in some breeds. Domestic ducks are omnivores eating a variety of animal and plant materials such as aquatic insects, molluscs, worms, small amphibians, waterweeds, and grasses. They feed in shallow water by dabbling, with their heads underwater and their tails upended. Most domestic ducks are too heavy to fly, and they are social birds, preferring to live and move around together in groups. They keep their plumage waterproof by preening, a process that spreads the secretions of the Preen gland over their feathers.
Domestic geese are much larger than their wild counterparts and tend to have thick necks, an upright posture, and large bodies with broad rear ends. The greylag-derived birds are large and fleshy and used for meat, while the Chinese geese have smaller frames and are mainly used for egg production. The fine down of both is valued for use in pillows and padded garments. They forage on grass and weeds, supplementing this with small invertebrates and one of the attractions of rearing geese are their ability to grow and thrive on a grass-based system. They are very gregarious and have good memories and can be allowed to roam widely in the knowledge that they will return home by dusk. The Chinese goose is more aggressive and noisy than other geese and can be used as a guard animal to warn of intruders. The flesh of meat geese is dark-colored and high in protein, but they deposit fat subcutaneously, although this fat contains mostly monounsaturated fatty acids. The birds are killed either around 10 or about 24 weeks. Between these ages, problems with dressing the carcase occur because of the presence of developing pin feathers.
Turkeys are large birds, their nearest relatives being the pheasant and the guineafowl. Males are larger than females and have spreading, fan-shaped tails and distinctive, fleshy wattes called a snood that hang from the top of the beak and are used in courtship display. Wild turkeys can fly, but seldom do so, preferring to run with a long, stratling gait. They roost in trees and forage on the ground, feeding on seeds, nuts, berries, grass, foliage, invertebrates, lizards, and small snakes.
The quail is a small to medium-sized, cryptically coloured bird. In its natural environment, it is found in bushy places, in rough grassland, among agricultural crops, and in other places with dense cover. It feeds on seeds, insects, and other small invertebrates. Being a largely ground-dwelling, gregarious bird, domestication of the quail was not difficult, although many of its wild instincts are retained in captivity. It was known to the Egyptians long before the arrival of chickens and was depicted in hieroglyphs from 2575 BC. It migrated across Egypt in vast flocks and the birds could sometimes be picked up off the ground by hand. These were the Common Quali (Coturnix coturnix), but modern domesticated flocks are mostly of Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) which was probably domesticated as early as the 11th century AD in Japan. They were originally kept as songbirds, and they are thought to have been regularly used in song contests.