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Poultry is any kind of domesticated bird that humans hold for their eggs, meat or feathers. These birds are most usually members of the Galloanserae (fowl) superorder, especially of the Galliformes order (which includes chickens, quails, and turkeys). The word also includes birds, such as young pigeons (known as squabs) that are killed for their meat, but does not include similar wild birds hunted for sport or food and known as game. The word “poultry” is derived from the French/Norman word poule, which is derived from the Latin word pullus, meaning little animal.
In Southeast Asia, the domestication of poultry took place about 5,400 years ago. This may have initially been due to individuals hatching and rearing young birds from wild-gathered eggs, but later included keeping the birds in captivity indefinitely. At first, domesticated chickens may have been used for cockfighting and quail kept for their songs, but it was soon realized how beneficial it was to have a food supply that was captive-bred. Selective breeding has taken place over the centuries for rapid development, egg-laying ability, conformation, plumage and docility, and modern breeds also look very distinct from their wild ancestors. While some birds are still kept in extensive systems in small flocks, most of the birds currently available on the market are reared in intensive commercial enterprises.
Poultry is one of the two most commonly consumed forms of meat worldwide, along with pig meat, with over 70 percent of the meat supply among them in 2012; poultry offers nutritionally beneficial foods containing high-quality protein accompanied by a low fat proportion. To minimize the risk of food poisoning, all poultry meat should be properly treated and thoroughly cooked.
The word "poultry" comes from "pultrie" in West & English, from pouletrie in Old French, from pouletier, poultry dealer, from poulet, pullet. The word "pullet" itself derives from the Middle English pulet, both from the Latin pullus, a young fowl, a young animal or a chicken, and from the Old French polet. The term "fowl" has Germanic roots (cf. Old English Fugol, German Vogel, Danish Fugl).
'Poultry' is a term used to refer to wildfowl (Galliformes) and waterfowl (Anseriformes) but not to cagebirds such as songbirds and parrots, for any kind of domesticated bird, captive-raised for its utility, and historically the word has been used. 'Poultry' can be described as domestic fowl raised for the production of meat or eggs, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks, and the word is often used for the flesh used as food for these birds.
The Encyclopædia Britannica mentions the same groups of birds but adds guinea fowl and squabs as well (young pigeons). Squabs are omitted in the breeding and genetics of R. D. Crawford's Poultry, but Japanese quail and common pheasant are added to the list, the latter being mostly bred in captivity and released into the wild. Edmund Dixon included chapters on peafowl, guinea fowl, mute swan, turkey, various types of geese, muscovy duck, other ducks and all kinds of chickens, including bantams, in his 1848 classic book on poultry, Ornamental and Domestic Poultry: Their History and Management.
The word "fowl" is sometimes used almost synonymously with "domesticated chicken" (Gallus gallus), or with "poultry" or even just "bird" in colloquial speech, and many languages do not differentiate between "poultry" and "fowl" For the meat of these birds, both words are used as well. Poultry can be distinguished from "game", which is described as wild birds or mammals hunted for food or sport, a term often used when eating to describe their meat.