The secret lives of chickens

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 18 December 2020

Chickens dream, they talk, and are tremendously unique and full of personality. But you won’t hear that from the egg and chicken meat industries.

Chickens are some of the most brilliant and fascinating animals most of us will come across, and if you take a peek beneath their feathered facade, you’ll understand why.:

They feel empathy.

Researchers have shown that when a hen’s chicks become distressed — she does, too! Her heart starts beating faster and she’ll increase vocalisations to her little ones.

They dream.

Photo: Two rescued battery hens rest peacefully in the sunshine for the first time. Courtesy: Brightside Farm Sanctuary

Ever dreamt you could fly? It probably would have happened during REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming. experience REM too … what do you think they would dream about? Birds experience REM too … what do you think they would dream about?

They're all individuals (just like us).

Some of us like finding a quiet corner to read, others want to be the life of the party — and chickens are the same (minus the book and the DJ). Every hen has her own likes and dislikes, and favourite things to do in her spare time. There are of course, the simple pleasures in life that they all enjoy sharing — like sunshine, fresh air and a warm and comfy place to sleep.

They're super smart.

A recent study has shown that chickens are intelligent and emotional animals, and are able to “demonstrate thinking skills on par with mammals and primates“. If you take an object away from a chicken, they will still know it’s there — this is something even young human kids aren’t able to do.

"Chickens are behaviourally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions, and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans."
- Lori Marino, Neuroscientist

They nail the art of nurturing.

You don’t get much more motherly than a hen — she’s a warm, cuddly bundle of love when it comes to her chicks. While she can’t spit on a tissue to wipe the dirt off their cheeks — she will fuss over them like there’s no tomorrow, keeping them protected from anything that they’re too little to defend themselves against, like predators or the cold. She’ll home school them, too — teaching them the ways of chickenhood so they’ll be as wise as she is when they grow up.

They've got the gift of the gab.

We hear cluck, begerk and bokbok
— but there’s a lot more to it than that. Chooks are effectively talking to each other in a language many of us will never understand. Chickens make distinct sounds that can mean anything from ‘OMG guys I found some food’ to ‘kids, get back here where I can see you’. Cute fact: a mother hen will start communicating with her chicks while they’re still in the egg — this way, when they hatch, they’ll already recognise her voice.

They're nosey (in a good way).

A chicken’s beak isn’t just designed to collect food and water, and chat with friends. It’s full of sensory receptors and nerves that enable them to distinguish between types of food, and interact with the world around them. This, coupled with their natural curiosity, means chickens LOVE to explore and try new experiences.

They just want to be themselves.

One thing every person lucky enough to know chickens knows to be true — is that these animals just love being themselves. But tragically, millions of these sensitive and intelligent animals are never given the chance to know even the most basic joys, hidden away behind the closed doors of factory farms. Thankfully, you don’t have to adopt a chicken (although you probably are thinking about it right now, right?) to be kind to chooks.

You can help free chickens from factory farms!

The simplest way to help chickens is to refuse to buy or eat any factory farmed products. And the great news is that choosing to live compassionately couldn’t be easier. Simply by making informed, every-day choices to live kindly, you have the power to make a lifetime of positive difference to animals everywhere.

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