The Red Junglefowl was domesticated by 8,000 BC, making the humble chicken one of humanity's oldest companions. As a bird that enjoys scratching in the dirt for its own food, the chicken was a practical source of meat and eggs for thousands of years in return for humans providing some fairly basic shelter.

At one time, probably anyone who had a bit of land would have had a backyard chicken or two. Today, at least in America, the chicken industry is dominated by a few billion-dollar producers. A hobby chicken breeder is unlikely to be able to produce eggs more cheaply than they can be bought in the supermarket. Instead, the challenge comes from the focus on heritage and rare breeds that preserve the genetic diversity of this fascinating bird.

With such a long history of domestication, it isn't surprising to learn that there are literally hundreds of known chicken breeds to suit almost any hobbyist. For instance, the Aracauna lays colorful blue eggs. Bantam Silkies love to incubate and will happily sit on the eggs of more unusual birds like buttonquail. There are many show breeds, which allow you to indulge a competitive streak. And the list goes on.