10 Things You Might Not Know About Chickens

By Shannon Alberta, Guest Contributor

May 4th is United Poultry Concern’s Annual ‘International Respect for Chickens‘ Day, a day intended to celebrate the majesty of chickens and demand an end to the horrifying ways we use them. In honour of the day, I had decided to share 10 things you might not have known about chickens! I’ve decided to guest post it here, because of the fantastic feedback, and how damn awesome chickens are!

10 Things You Might Not Know About Chickens

1 ) Unlike popular portrayals of chickens being ‘stupid’ or ‘robotic’, they can distinguish more than 80 members of their own species!

Photo: United Poultry Concerns

2 ) They frequently sun bathe (just like your cat or dog!) But they also give themselves regular dust baths to keep their feathers in good condition and to fight off potential bacteria. While this is a rather utilitarian explanation, I’d like to believe that just like drawing a bath for oneself might seem like a matter of mere hygiene to an observer, we all know that laying in a warm bath tub is relaxing and divine.

3 ) They experience REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which indicates that they dream, just like we do.

4 ) They have full-color vision and highly developed hearing that assists them in locating and identifying flock members over large areas.

5 ) They originated from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, where their habitat consisted of dense foliage, vibrant colors and a wide variety of sounds. These ancestors laid an average of 10-15 eggs per year, a far cry from the 300+/year produced by today’s selectively and genetically bred chickens, whose bones are chronically osteoporotic as a result.

6 ) Even after periods of separation, chickens recognize each other as individuals, demonstrating their impressive memories. Upon reentry, a chicken who has been separated from her flock is treated like an old friend, not a new member.

7 ) Throughout history, hens have been notably celebrated for their ability (and willingness) to defend their young from predators, which makes it all the more surprising (and inaccurate) that the term ‘chicken’ describes someone who lacks bravery.

8 ) Most chickens don’t get to make eye contact with humans, however it is understood as crucial in order to form a friendship with them. Too often chickens only see shoes and legs, not the eyes of a person. Karen Davis even remarks at the difference between the way that chickens raised as pets versus chickens liberated from farms respond to human eye contact initially.

9 ) According to Davis, chickens have many different distinct sounds which include: peeps (made 24 hours before a chick is hatched, it starts to peep to communicate to its mother and siblings that it’s ready to emerge from the shell; this synchronizes the hatching of baby chicks); peeps and clucks (as soon as the chicks are born, the family explores all the while communicating back and forth using peep and clucks; the mother counts the various peeps and notes the emotional tones of their voices); nesting call (when a hen is ready to lay an egg she gives a nesting call to her mate, inviting him to establish a nesting site with her); gentle squawks (when the rooster is a distance away while searching for a nesting site, she squawks gently with diminishing intensity to bring the rooster back while she is more vulnerable away from her flock); egg cackles (after laying her egg, the hen makes an excited cackle to announce her ‘happy accomplishment’ and this brings the rooster to her side); the ‘come over here’ squawk (more of a demand than a request, for her rooster partner to rejoin her); soft trills and peeps (content and relaxed sounds); the ‘piping voice of woe‘ (when bored or restricted in movement and activity); and the ‘huddle of peace and well-being‘ (when they often sing at the end of a busy day while settling into their perches).

10 ) Chickens have pain receptors which provides neurophysiological evidence of a chicken’s ability to feel pain and distress. Suddenly the impersonal understanding of the life of a battery hen becomes viscerally personal:

I am a battery hen. I live in a cage so small I cannot stretch my wings. I am forced to stand night and day on a sloping wire mesh floor that painfully cuts into my feet. The cage walls tear my feathers, forming blood blisters that never heal. The air is so full of ammonia that my lungs hurt and my eyes burn and I think I am going blind. As soon as I was born, a man grabbed me and sheared off part of my beak with a hot iron, and my little brothers were thrown into trash bags as useless alive.

My mind is alert and my body is sensitive and I should have been richly feathered. In nature or even a farmyard I would have had sociable, cleansing dust baths with my flock mates, a need so strong that I perform “vacuum” dust bathing on the wire floor of my cage. Free, I would have ranged my ancestral jungles and fields with my mates devouring plants, earthworms and insects from sunrise to dusk. I would have exercised my body and expressed my nature, and I would have given, and received, pleasure as a whole being. I am only a year old, but I am already a “spent hen.” Humans, I wish I were dead, and soon I will be dead. Look for pieces of my wounded flesh wherever chicken pies and soups are sold. – Karen Davis