We see chickens as a commodity, and not living beings capable of loyalty, sophisticated communication, friendships, and of course, pain and distress. Like humans and other species, no two chickens are alike – they all have unique personalities. Here are some chicken facts that may surprize you:
Domesticated chickens were originally bred by humans from Asian jungle fowl. The chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, is a domestic subspecies of the red junglefowl, a member of the pheasant family that is native to Asia. Genetic studies have found that the grey junglefowl also contributed to the chicken’s evolution.
Chickens like music and have clear preferences for different genres, songs and artists. Donna James had chickens growing up in Nova Scotia that would come running if Bob Marley was playing. They loved Reggae music. Put on something else and they all went back about their business.
Scientists have shown that mother hens display signs of empathy and protective behaviour towards their baby chicks.
Chickens are able to remember and recognize over 100 individual chickens and roosters; they also recognize humans.
Chickens who are kept as companion animals can be housebroken. They can be trained to use litter, newspapers, or to only go outdoors.
Like other birds and mammals, chickens experience REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming.
Chickens have very sophisticated social behaviour with a dominance hierarchy where higher individuals dominate subordinate individuals. This is where the term pecking order comes from.
The dominant male (cockerel) protects the females (hens) and they choose to feed close to him for safety.
Chickens perform complex communication where calls have specific meanings. They perform over 30 types of vocalization that we are aware of, with meanings varying from calling youngsters, alarm calls, and alerting others to the whereabouts of food.
Chickens have two different alarm calls for two specific types of predators, which allow the other chickens to know the type of threat they face (from the air or on the ground), and what sort of anti-predation behaviour to perform.
Chickens are able to comprehend that when an object is taken away and hidden from them, it still exists. Young human children are unable to understand this.
Hens are extremely affectionate and caring mothers. In Christian writings, Jesus is said to have used the love of a hen for her brood to express God’s love for humans. In Ancient Rome, saying ‘you were raised by a hen’ was a compliment.
Chickens can’t taste sweetness in foods however they can detect salt, and most choose to avoid it.
It is thought that chickens were first domesticated for the purpose of cockfights, not as food due to their courage.
Chickens aren’t completely flightless—they can get airborne enough to make it over a fence or into a tree.
Chickens are omnivores. They’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey like small mice and lizards.
There are 25 billion chickens in the world, more than any other bird species.
There are dozens of chicken breeds, such as the Dutch bantam, leghorn and Rhode Island red.
Baby chickens are chicks. Female chickens are pullets until they’re old enough to lay eggs and become hens. Male chickens are called roosters, cocks or cockerels, depending on the country you’re in.
A rooster announces to a flock of chickens that he’s found food with a “took, took, took.”
Reggae Rooster Copyright Donna James
Roosters perform a little dance called ‘tidbitting’ in which they make sounds (food calls) and move their head up and down, picking up and dropping a bit of food. Researchers have found that females prefer males that often perform tidbitting and have larger, brighter combs on top of their heads.
Scientists believe that the rooster’s wattle–the bit that dangles beneath his beak–helps him to gain a hen’s attention when he is tidbitting.
A hen may mate with many different males, but if she decides, after the deed is done, that she doesn’t want a particular rooster’s offspring she can eject his sperm. This occurs most often when the male is lower in the pecking order and/or has forced her to mate.
The chicken was the first bird to have its genome sequenced, in 2004.
Avian influenza (a.k.a. bird flu) is extremely contagious and can make chickens very sick and kill them. The highly pathogenic form of the disease can kill off 90 to 100 percent of birds in a flock in just 48 hours
Chickens see in full colour and have better vision in the ultra violet spectrum than humans.
More chickens are raised and killed for food than all other land animals combined.
Most male chickens are killed within 24 hours of their birth
Most hens are killed when they stop laying regularly, which is usually around 2 years old, depending on the breed and farm practices.
Most meat chickens are killed before they are two months old.
Broiler chickens (meat chickens), have been bred to be so front heavy (for breast meat), that many can no longer stand on their own.
A chicken’s natural lifespan is between 8 to 12 years, depending on the breed.
Chickens like to sunbath.
Most chickens, regardless of whether they are used for eggs or meat, are subjected to horrendous conditions, as this video from Mercy for Animals Canada so graphically illustrates.
Chickens have pain receptors and feel pain and distress
Hens will protect their young from predators. Calling someone a chicken should be a compliment.
Chickens are just like human mothers who talk to their babies in the womb—a mother hen begins to teach calls to her chicks before they even hatch.
In the Bible it was prophesied that Peter would deny Jesus “before the cock crows.” In the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I decreed that a figure of a rooster be placed atop every church as a reminder of the incident—which is why many churches still have cockerel-shaped weather vanes
Chickens in the News
Some of these facts came from the following sites: Special thanks to One Kind for allowing the use of all of their facts.
Photo of Bruce Copyright Wishing Well Sanctuary