“Chickens are . . . complex behaviorally, do quite well in learning, show a rich social organization, and have a diverse repertoire of calls. Anyone who has kept barnyard chickens also recognizes their significant differences in personality.” - Dr. Bernard Rollin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University
Hens are curious, intelligent and interesting animals, each with their own personalities, interests and desires. From before they are born a chick will begin bonding with their mother and siblings, engaging in back and forth responsive communication. At about 24 hours before hatching the chicks will start peeping to let their mother know that they are nearly ready to emerge. The mother responds to her chicks by making soothing sounds. The siblings also communicate their imminent arrival to each other and while embryos they can even slow down or speed up their development so that they all hatch together.
Much of a chicks behaviour after birth was thought to be instinctual but research is now showing that mother hens have a much greater teaching role in their chicks development than was previously thought. Mother hens will teach their children how to communicate, how to participate in chicken society and what to eat. Chicks also learn from their siblings and even from watching videos. As chickens develop research has also shown that they have the ability to make memories, to think about the future, to count and perform basic geometry. As ethologist Dr. Lesley Rogers explains, they know that “it is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates…”
Indeed, chickens are intelligent animals, outperforming dogs and cats on many tests of advanced cognition. As just one example, in a study by the Silsoe Research Institute in England, researchers showed that chickens have the ability to make a conscious choice to delay gratification. In this study, the chickens figured out that if they refuse some food now, they will get more food later. Discovery Magazine explained the importance of the study this way: “Chickens do not just live in the present but can anticipate the future…something previously attributed only to humans and other primates…”
Like humans and other primates, chickens are also socially complex, forming well-ordered communities and learning from one another in sophisticated ways. Scientists from Macquarie University in Australia won the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for research in which they showed that chickens are “social, intelligent creatures complete with Machiavellian tendencies to adjust what they say according to who is listening…chickens can share remarkably precise information about the presence of predators and the discovery of food.”³ As Macquarie scientist Chris Evans explains, “As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.”
And, as The New York Times reports, “Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist.” Explains Amy Hatkoff in The Inner World of Farm Animals, discussing research by Dr. Giorgio Vallortigara and Dr. Lucia Regolin: "chickens have complex cognition and can grasp abstract concepts,” including an ability to recognize “a whole object even when it is partly hidden…a capacity it was thought only humans possessed.”
Farmwatch are committed to investigating and exposing the suffering that hens are subjected to on farms throughout New Zealand and rescuing hens where we can. Farmwatch are also committed to advocating for all animals to have the opportunity to live a full, natural life; free from suffering and slaughter. Farmwatch advocate a lifestyle free of all animal products; hens are not there to produce food products, they are individuals capable of feeling and suffering.
A hen's life is as important and irreplaceable to them as ours is to us. It's time for us to change the way we see hens and all animals, to stop thinking of them only as food and to start viewing them for who they are: individuals with their own interests who deserve respect and freedom.
Adapted from Farm Sanctuary website.
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