Not growing up with friends or relatives who lived on a farm, I never even saw a chicken face-to-face until just a few years ago (and I’m 38 years old!). I mean, I may have seen them at the zoo when I was little…you know how some zoos have a little ‘petting zoo’ area? But even if I had seen them back then, I don’t think I really saw them…I was probably focused more on the ‘cuter’ animals, like the goats (more info about the concept of speciesism here…the more you know, right?).
Today’s chickens were domesticated around 8,000 years ago, and are actually descendants of the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex (take a closer look at them and you can actually tell…so cool!). Like humans, chickens have full colour vision, and are able to see red, green and blue light. However, chicken’s vision is unique from ours as they are also able to see violet and ultraviolet light as well.
Chickens are also very intelligent animals! Studies have shown that chickens are self-aware and can distinguish themselves from others. They learn from one another, and are also able to recognize the social status of other chickens in their social group. Chickens have over 30 unique vocalizations that they use to communicate with other chickens, including mating calls, stress signals, warnings of danger, how they are feeling and when they find food.
One very unique type of chicken is the Ayam Cemani, which is a rare breed of chicken from Indonesia. What makes it unique is that it is completely black, inside and out. Its feathers, beak, eyes, comb (flesh on top of its head) and wattle (the fleshy bit dangling under its beak) are all black. It even has black bones and organs!
Chickens tend to perch as high as possible so that they can keep an eye out for predators and let out an alert of any dangers they see. Even their feet are specially designed for perching, with three forward facing toes and one toe pointing backward, allowing them to grip onto branches and other perch-perfect objects. At night, chickens perch up high to sleep, which is called roosting. They also experience REM sleep, which means they dream just like we do.
Chickens live in groups called flocks. The social structure of these flocks depends on a pecking order, which is an order of dominance, and each chicken knows their place in this order. Chickens are able to recognize over 100 different individuals, even after being separated for extended periods of time, which shows their capability for long-term memory.
Ever wondered what causes the difference between brown and white eggs? It depends on the breed, but it’s not the feather colour that tells you what colour the egg shell will be. Can you believe that it’s the colour of the chicken’s earlobes! Generally, chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs, and chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs (with some exceptions of course). In nature, wild hens lay just 15-20 eggs each year (with domesticated hens unfortunately being intensively bred to lay between 250 to 300 each year, causing many health issues including major losses in calcium for the hens).
Chickens clean themselves by dust bathing. An oil gland on their back is used to spread oil over their feathers to make them waterproof. But over time, the oil goes stale, and chickens need to wash the old oil off through dust bathing. Chickens like to dust bathe together daily to keep their feathers waterproofed, conditioned and in neat order. It also helps repel parasites and keep their skin healthy.
Have you ever truly looked at a chicken before? If not, I hope you do now.