More chickens are raised and killed for food than all other land animals combined, but if more people understood the complex nature of these interesting animals, they would probably hesitate before consuming their flesh or eggs. Here are some of our favourite facts about chickens:
- Chickens can distinguish among more than 100 faces of members of their species – who knew that their memories rival those of elephants?
- Chickens have full-colour vision, just like we do.
“Inquisitive hens” by Peter Cooper / CC BY 2.0
- And they tell each other about what they see. Chickens communicate with more than 24 vocalisations, each with a distinct meaning, including warning their friends about different types of predators or letting their mothers know whether they’re comfortable.
- Chickens have pain receptors, enabling them to feel pain and distress. Just imagine their agony, then, when they endure mutilations such as having the ends of their sensitive beaks cut off with a red-hot blade – with no painkillers.
- Hens defend their young from predators. Next time someone calls you “chicken” as an insult, you know what to tell them!
- Chickens love to play and will run, jump and sunbathe when given the chance – yet billions of them spend their entire lives in cramped sheds with less floor space than an A4 piece of paper.
- Believe it or not, chickens dream just like we do. They experience REM (rapid eye movement) during sleep, indicating that their minds may be wandering far from the four walls of the factory farms where they are imprisoned.
“Chickens” by vonguard / CC BY-SA 2.0
- They slurp grass like spaghetti. Yes, you read that right!
- Wild chickens lay only approximately 10 to 15 eggs a year during breeding season. The hens who are bred by the egg industry to produce eggs every single day often suffer from painful reproductive disorders and become exhausted after just a few years.
- Research suggests that chickens are cleverer than toddlers. Hens have exhibited mathematical reasoning, self-control and even structural engineering.
- Chickens know who’s boss. Just like us, they form social structures, known as “pecking orders”, and all chickens know their place on the ladder. It’s only when they’re packed into sheds on intensive farms with tens of thousands of other birds that their social hierarchy collapses and stress leads to feather-pecking and cannibalism.
- Chickens originate from tropical rainforests, where they evolved for millions of years, and artificial farm pastures leave hens feeling vulnerable and exposed.
- Studies show that chickens survive a predator attack 90 per cent of the time while living in their natural environment.
- Chickens are the closest living relative to the T. rex, though perhaps not quite as scary!
- Roosters will attempt to woo hens by performing a little dance, called “tidbitting”, involving moving their heads up and down and making a certain type of call. Female hens are also thought to be especially attracted to roosters who have a large wattle!
- Chickens display object permanence – an understanding that when an object is hidden, it still exists. Even young children don’t have this ability.
“IMG_1607” by Erica / CC BY 2.0
- Mother hens talk to their unborn babies, and they chirp back through their shells. Factory-farmed chicks never meet their parents because they are taken away as soon as they’re laid.
- They can navigate using the sun, which helps them find food and water and even know what time it is. Many chickens raised for meat or eggs, however, will never even see the sun from their dark, windowless sheds.
“Chicks!” by Daniel Hall / CC BY-SA 2.0
- Chickens love dust baths and become extremely frustrated in factory farms when they aren’t able to clean themselves this way. The bathing helps to ward off parasites as well as maintaining feather insulation.
- Wild chickens survive for five to 11 years in their natural environment. Chickens raised for meat are often slaughtered when they’re just 41 days old – for “free-range” birds, this period increases to just 56 days old. Male chicks born into the egg industry are routinely killed as soon as they’re born.
“Hello, baby chickens” by Willrad von Doomenstein / CC BY-SA 2.0
- Finally, chickens are ADORABLE!
Sadly, these intelligent, sensitive birds are subject to horrific conditions before they are slaughtered for food here in the UK. In one abattoir alone, up to 12,000 birds can be killed per hour, and that doesn’t even account for all the hens suffering in the egg industry. Please stand up for these insightful animals by taking the pledge to go vegan!
Images 3, 4, 9, 13 and 15: Jo-Anne McArthur / weanimals.org