Challenging Assumptions and Boundaries on Behalf of Chickens

By Published On: 4 July 2013Last Updated: 17 January 2017

It seems pretty clear to me that chickens are self-aware and have their own interests - and the interests of their flock - at heart.

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Photo credit: Daria Zeoli

Photo credit: Daria Zeoli

My day-to-day, like many other vegans, is never without a thought, action, or conversation having to do with animals or veganism. I’m betting there are many who can relate to this. That’s one of the reasons why veganism is more than just a diet (though I’m sure I talk about the food I’m eating almost as much).

I recently had a work-related meeting to attend with co-workers in another location who I don’t see very often. As we were ordering lunch, I had to clarify what veganism meant: no seafood. I chit-chatted with one co-worker about fish and he agreed that it was strange that people don’t always consider fish as animals (or meat).

Later, on the way home, someone said that if there was a way to get protein from plants with the same consistency of meat he’d be for it. Aha! I name dropped Beyond Meat, and my co-worker said he’d be willing to try it. Planting those seeds!

But then the conversation suddenly turned, and from the backseat, I heard the words that led me to write this post: “Chickens aren’t self-aware.” Now I’m the first to admit that I get my point across way better via the written word than I do verbally, but I took the opportunity to explain that his statement wasn’t true, telling of roosters who protect their flock, explaining the numerous vocalizations that a chicken has to communicate things to other chickens. My skeptical co-worker started talking about cows, and how it’s more believable that they are self-aware.

If you find yourself in this type of situation, remember: quick, interesting facts are always a good idea to have available. People seem to have a natural affinity towards trivia, so lay it on them! Here are a few chicken facts to start, courtesy of and While they may not prove self-awareness, they’re attention-grabbers:

  • Closest living relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex? The chicken!
  • Can chickens fly? Well, perhaps enough to perch on a tree branch, but they aren’t capable of sustained flight.
  • BUT (here’s your trivia!), the longest recorded flight of a chicken is thirteen seconds. A chicken can travel up to 9 miles per hour.

Now that you have your listener’s attention, here are some more facts to help make your point:

  • A hen will mate with many males but if she doesn’t want a particular rooster’s offspring (say if the male is lower in the pecking order), she can eject his sperm.
  • If a flock of hens has no rooster, one of them will often take the role, stop laying, and begin to crow.
  • Chickens are social, will fight to protect their family and will mourn when a loved one is lost.

I don’t know about you, but with information like that, it seems pretty clear to me that chickens have their own interests – and the interests of their flock – at heart. Birds, like fish, don’t seem as “like us” as mammals do, and so they are presumed to be “less than,” or, in a different moral category.

In my post-meeting conversation with my co-worker, I made a point to tell him that he was being speciesist – stressing that I wasn’t trying to insult him, but to point something larger out. He agreed that perhaps I was right.

Daria & Hen

Photo credit: Charleen Angle

When YDV visited Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in May, I got to hold a hen. As I stroked her feathers, I watched her; calm in my hands, she dozed off as we discussed her and her friends. She was not so unlike the roosters who were caged in a barn elsewhere on the property – they would fall asleep in human hands, but had been trained for cock fighting and could not be left to roam free, lest they kill their fellow roosters.

In visits to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, I have seen a flock of hens surround a rooster, seeming to hang on his every movement, following him around wherever he went. I have watched Rod, another rooster, hump a shoe.

These birds are self-aware, and it’s important that people know that. Easy, digestible facts about the lives of animals that can be remembered and shared are just as important as anecdotal information when it comes to spreading the word.


  1. Daria Zeoli July 21, 2013 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, Berenice. I can relate to your story (I think a lot of us can). I went vegan on Thanksgiving almost four years ago – if you ever get the chance to meet a turkey at a farm sanctuary, it will blow your mind! They are amazing animals.

    It’s funny how we look at things completely differently when something clicks, isn’t it? Here’s hoping our example leads others to that click!

  2. Berenice July 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    thank you so much for this article, I have been vegan for barely 5 months, I am surprised and sad that I haven’t done this before…I’ve been a vegetarian before and have been on & off from eating fish and chicken for years, like many carnivores sometimes I felt, well, I am not eating beef only chicken… but it was actually an interview with a worker from Tyson chicken that made me turn vegan 100% I thought, no more pain and sacrifice for these lovely creatures… also another turning point for me was cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving, I got a 14 pound turkey organic non-frozen and as I handled him, I couldn’t miss the comparison with handling one of my cats, who is about 15 pounds and naked turkey color, beige… I almost came to tears when I realized that my cat about about walking and meowing while I was holding a poor dead animal who died for just a yummy dinner… I thought no more again! I will not sacrifice a poor turkey for a couple of hours of pleasure in my mouth… I am on a phase where I want ALL my friends and family to become vegan! And I am always amazed how some people even dare to call themselves “vegetarians” and then say: “Oh well, I do eat occasionally some chicken and fish”… that’s not vegetarian! And very faraway from vegan… so I am forwarding your article to a couple of those friends. Thank you!!

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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…