June 29, 2022

Hobby in elevating yard chickens spiked after the beginning of the pandemic, and presentations no signal of slowing down. As a hen proprietor, I’ve had a gentle flow of curious pals discuss with my pastime farm to look my setup and ask how they may be able to get began with their very own flock. I’ve been stunned by means of the forms of questions I have been getting about my chickens. The general public’s chronic false impression of hen habits and intelligence is unquestionably rooted in our dating to them as a meals supply; we see them as a farm commodity and no longer an animal value fascinated with.

However I’ve spent numerous time fascinated with my chickens. As a scientist learning animal cognition, I believe obligated to assist the general public shed our misconceptions about chickens and notice them for the advanced — and albeit reasonably comical — creatures that they’re.   

The largest false impression maximum guests to my farm have considerations one thing relatively mundane: what chickens devour. After I inform those who I feed my chickens uncooked meat, their jaws drop. However chickens completely love meat. My chickens are by no means happier than when tearing right into a plate stuffed with kitchen scraps with strips of uncooked beef or pork.

I believe the image the general public have of chickens is of birds pecking away at a tray stuffed with corn. Many supermarkets and eating places promote it “corn-fed hen” as a awesome form of meat, which unquestionably contributes to the pervasive concept that chickens are corn-loving vegetarians. However that is patently false. Chickens are omnivores: they devour each plants and meat.

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My chickens have get admission to to an enormous fenced in house the place they tear up the bottom looking for worms and insects. Chickens will even devour lizards, frogs, or even mice. Like many hen house owners, I’ve witnessed my chickens at their maximum velociraptor-like when preventing each and every different over get admission to to a mouse they have got killed. The concept chickens are delicate little vegetarians is not anything like truth; a truth through which a hen would unquestionably kill and devour a human in the event that they had been handiest an order of magnitude better.

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The picture now we have of chickens scurrying round a dusty farmyard additionally paints a false image of the type of animal that they’re. Chickens are jungle birds; happiest when surrounded by means of or perched in timber. The general public don’t recall to mind chickens as tree-loving animals, however that is every other false impression that must be debunked. 

Within the wild, grownup chickens wish to roost as top up within the timber as they may be able to get – achieving so far as 40 ft. Home chickens are not any other: they would like to be top up within the timber at night time.

My hen coop has ceilings which might be just about ten ft tall, with tree-like branches I’ve put in about 8 ft up within the air. That is the place my chickens pass to roost at night time. Without a doubt, they would favor to roost even upper if I had the distance. Guests are amazed if no longer stunned once they see my chickens luckily perched within the rafters. Maximum yard hen coops are just a few ft off the bottom, and a few better business operations would not have roosts for his or her chickens in any respect (which is illegitimate in some international locations because of welfare regulations). Chickens slumbering at the floor or on quick perches is, from the standpoint of an animal habits researcher like me, a bonkers and ridiculous state of affairs. Farm chickens are, for all intents and functions, the similar species of chook as their wild ancestor: the purple junglefowl. Those wild chickens need not anything greater than to steer clear of the bottom at night time, the place they’re at risk of any selection of predators. Within the wild, grownup chickens wish to roost as top up within the timber as they may be able to get – achieving so far as 40 ft (12 meters). Home chickens are not any other: they would like to be top up within the timber at night time, which is why my strangely tall perches don’t seem to be that strange within the eyes of a hen.

In all probability you’re questioning how chickens set up to get that top up in timber if they may be able to’t fly. This is every other false impression that wishes revision. Chickens can and do fly – albeit for brief distances. And it is not simply that they flap their wings to gradual their descent. Chickens are ready to reach raise – emerging into the air. My chickens stand up into the rafters by means of hop-flying from department to department. In fact, no longer all breeds can fly to the similar extent. Some breeds are heavier than others, with meat chickens bred to have additional muscle tissues which makes it tricky for them to stroll, let by myself fly. It may not take you very many searches on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube to search out loads of movies of chickens hovering in the course of the air.

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The saddest false impression for me is the pervasive concept that chickens are unintelligent. It is a sentiment I frequently pay attention from my farm guests. I believe that the general public’s trust in hen stupidity is a protection mechanism evolved all through our lengthy historical past of farming and consuming chickens. It is a long way more uncomplicated to justify consuming a silly animal. However as many yard hen house owners can attest to, there’s much more occurring within the thoughts of a hen than maximum other people consider. Scientist learning animal minds are neatly conscious about hen cognitive complexity, however that data is gradual to go into public awareness.

My farm guests are amazed after I display them my chickens and provide an explanation for their intricate, person personalities. Ghost is my friendliest lap hen and can hop up onto my lap at each and every alternative. Dr. Becky is concerned and nonetheless helps to keep her distance from me in the end those years. Those person variations in personalities recommend to me (and different scientists) a type of advanced cognition. Maximum animals—together with chickens—have quantifiably distinct personalities; characteristics like shyness/boldness that stay solid right through an animal’s lifestyles. Like people, some chickens are born extra introverted or extroverted, extra vigilant or extra aloof. Some hens are higher, extra attentive moms than others, and a few will search out the love in their house owners while others shun bodily touch. Chickens, like maximum animals, don’t seem to be one-dimensional little robots, however folks with distinct likes and dislikes, distinctive ideas and wishes, and numerous tactics of interacting with the sector.

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One in every of my favourite issues to turn guests to my pastime farm is how my chicken reacts after I hand him a yummy deal with. His habits unearths a degree of cognitive complexity this is, in my view, simple. He’ll gently snatch it and drop it at the floor in entrance of him whilst making a definite clucking sound and shuffling his ft it somewhat; a behavioral show referred to as tidbitting. This show is one thing he does when meals is provide, and it draws the eye of the hens who come speeding over to look what the fuss is all about.

For scientists learning animal communique, this meals calling habits is crucial precursor to the kind of communique that at last developed into language for our species. My chicken’s clucks are used to check with the meals – with the hens figuring out that reference. It’s distantly associated with the concept that of a phrase as we might comprehend it for human language. This sort of referential communique is a part of chickens’ advanced communique methods. They have got different calls that check with predators of their surroundings (known as alarm calls), in addition to quite a lot of calls that they make in different scenarios, like a purring sound when they’re glad/content material. As many hen house owners know, hens will sing the egg music simply after (and on occasion earlier than) laying an egg – a decision that could be used to draw consideration to themselves (and thus clear of their prone egg), or to let their chicken know the place they’re and what they’re as much as. Chickens have a fancy communique gadget that hints at a wealthy internal psychological lifestyles.

I’m hoping that our collective, renewed passion in conserving yard chickens will encourage other people to assume extra deeply about hen habits and the intelligence of chickens. As I and plenty of guests to my farm now know, it is virtually unattainable to not increase a keenness and recognize for chickens after they transform part of your lifestyles.  

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