Are chickens dumb?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by PrintedPerfect, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. PrintedPerfect

    PrintedPerfect Chillin' With My Peeps

    43
    2
    54
    Mar 19, 2014
    Nunnelly, TN
    A friend of mine, not meaning to insult or throw jabs, just basically told me that chickens are ultra stupid. I am new to chickens so I am not quite sure what to think.

    Here is the thing, I have a hen that went broody. I have been reaching out trying to find fertile eggs or day old chicks. Someone told me that even though she has been sitting for two weeks that I could slip fertile eggs in and she'd stick with it. They said after a week or so she'd feel the chicks moving in the eggs and hang in for the duration - I was a little worried I'd give her fertile eggs and then she'd abandon the job and leave me to finish, which could (likely would) be a disaster.

    This is where my friend comes in. She has boat loads of chickens and roosters, so her eggs are always fertile. She doesn't have any right now, but back to my point..... She wanted to know WHY I cared. I told her I was worried about my hen's psyche, I didn't want her to be disappointed or tweaking because nothing hatched out of the eggs she's sitting on. She replied and said chickens are dumb and not like other animals. She claims that I could go into the hen house and murder half the chickens and the survivors wouldn't care a bit. Is there any truth to this?

    If it isn't going to make a difference to my hen then we'd be better, take much less risk and save a lot of money by waiting until we have warmer weather to get eggs or live chicks. But I personally think she appears to be proud that she's sitting on these eggs - she purrs when I go out and talk to/pet her, and when she comes out for food and potty she holds her tail feathers differently - she actually looks like she is a proud mama. These chickens are my pets just like a dog, I think I like them better than my dog. I want to do the right thing for them. And I know the brain cavity probably is probably equivalent to a tuna fish can with two BB's rolling around in it, but still, if they feel any emotion or have the ability to realize or understand things then I need to go forward with these eggs or day old chicks.

    Thanks for the help!
    Jeanne
     
  2. krista74

    krista74 Chillin' With My Peeps

    1,576
    166
    158
    Jun 4, 2014
    Victoria, Australia.
    Hi there!

    You raise an interesting topic, in fact I think you are sort of raising TWO topics - (1) Are chickens dumb/intelligent and (2) Do they have feelings? I am sure the responses you get here will be quite varied, and I can only offer my own thoughts based on the behaviours my chickens exhibit...

    1) I do think chickens have a degree of intelligence. They can problem solve. I had a broody hen who wanted so badly to access her nest box, a big round drum which is flipped on it's side and filled with hay. It has two accesses cut into the front of it, and I covered them with a square piece of metal. Whilst she couldn't see directly into the nest, and nor could she push her way past the metal, she DID find a way in! I watched her move around the drum, to the left, and the right and the left again. She noticed that the top of the metal did not sit flush to the top of the drum, and what she did next amazed me. She jumped up on top of the drum, walked along the top of it to where there was a gap of about 6 inches between the drum and the metal sheeting, and dropped herself down into the crack, landing in the nest box from above! I don't know about you, but I think that exhibits some degree of intellect?

    2) I think there is a difference between having feelings and having automatic responses to certain scenarios. For example, if I pick up my hen and my rooster chases after me, he is having a response to the situation - he perceives a threat and acts accordingly. If a predator attack takes three or four birds out of the flock, the remaining survivors will hide to protect themselves - again, an automatic response to impending danger.

    That being said....

    I have lost birds from illness in my flock before, and for several days following the event other birds have reacted in ways that I can only describe as 'depressed and lost.' Some people might suggest that this is one of the automatic response I noted above, but I personally believe they are exhibiting 'feelings.' I have hatched chicks and seen a Momma Hen love them like a human Mother loves her child. Yes, she feeds them and keeps them warm - no doubt a natural response. But they way she coos and purrs to them? To me, that suggests feelings.

    So, to your original situation....Is your hen going to be upset if she does not get to hatch any eggs? Again, I can only offer my personal opinion.

    I have broken several broody hens, and I believe that whilst they do experience a fluctuation in hormones, they are not 'upset' per se. It would be easy to say 'they were distressed because they couldn't have babies" but I think that would be me projecting my feelings of disappointment at not being able to allow them to hatch chicks onto the hen. I do think, however, that if I allowed the hen to hatch chicks and then took them away from her, she would experience a good deal of emotional distress.

    It's a fine line I guess, and I could be accused of being too empathetic with my birds. But to a degree, I believe that they do have feelings, and I definitely think there is a certain degree of intelligence there. They are certainly not running around blindly - mine seem to have definite plans and agendas!

    Thanks for raising such an interesting subject!

    - Krista
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
    2 people like this.
  3. PrintedPerfect

    PrintedPerfect Chillin' With My Peeps

    43
    2
    54
    Mar 19, 2014
    Nunnelly, TN
    Thank you for such a thoughtful reply Krista. I agree with you. My chicken seems to have some kind of feelings. Granted, not like a human, but she is showing some signs of pride and obviously a certain degree of care for the eggs she's sitting on.

    Pretty clever on your chicken getting into the drum! LOL That's precious! I think my chickens know their names, or at least they give the appearance of knowing their names. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they either know my duck's name or know when I call her name that goodies are being handed out. All I have to do is step onto the back deck and call her name and they come running.

    I was thinking that my friend was wrong, to her an animal is just that - an animal, but thought it was worth asking those that have more experience. I think I would rather be safe than sorry on getting her fertile eggs or day old chicks.

    Again, thank you!
     
  4. krista74

    krista74 Chillin' With My Peeps

    1,576
    166
    158
    Jun 4, 2014
    Victoria, Australia.
    Hmmm, I think when someone asks "Why we care" about our chickens it is a sign that they don't relate to animals/birds on the same level that we do. I can fully appreciate that some people raise birds purely for meat purposes, and even that some want to honour their bird's lives by culling them for meat (as the bird's final gift to them). However, for myself personally, my chickens (as well as my cats) are more than 'just birds and animals' to me. Right or wrong I do tend to baby my animals. They get the best I can afford to give them, they are always treated humanely, and more than that: they bring me no end of joy. When things are tough and life is not going my way, my chickens and my cats are always there - not demanding anything from me but my love and attention - and they can bring a smile to my face with their antics on even the worst of days.

    To have, or not to have chicks - that is the question! To me, it just comes down to resources. If I have a spare pen available, that's a plus. If I can afford to feed and look after them (because let's face it, the babies take a lot of work!), that's in the hen's favour too. Right now I have just dissuaded one girl from being broody, purely because it is simply way too hot here to be raising chicks at the moment. My designated chick pen is within the main coop and we are in late Spring here. We are expecting 106F tomorrow, and hotter the day after that! I don't want my girls sitting in a tin coop, in a hot nest box, in that sort of weather. But again, if conditions are optimal, I will hatch chicks.

    I think if you can get hold of some fertile eggs, that would be ideal. Day old chicks would be my second choice, only because you are not guaranteed that she will accept them as her own. She might well adopt them willingly, but I have heard of some hens who have rejected chicks they did not hatch. Either way, I wish you all the very best, and would love it if you would keep us up to date with any potential chicks (preferably with little fuzzle-butt pictures!)

    - Krista
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
    2 people like this.
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    36,704
    10,445
    686
    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I am decidedly an anti-anthropomorphist...I don't think animals have human emotions like depression and sadness so I don't attribute them to animals.

    But they do have fear, hunger and reproductive instincts/behaviors/responses, they can learn and are sensitive to our feelings/behaviors and you can modify a chickens behavior by your behaviors/actions. Being aware of your own emotions and behaviors is essential to avoid projecting them onto an animal and having that animal react in a negative way.

    When you call an chickens 'name' to give them treats, they are all going to learn to come running because they know you have food, not because they know their name. It's not like just the one whose name you called comes and the rest stay back because their names weren't called.

    If you are afraid of the rooster attacking you, he will feel that fear and react by attacking you....it's not that the rooster 'hates' you, he is reacting to your fear and actions.
    If you stay calm and confident, that rooster is much less likely to be alarmed and react in a negative way.

    Chickens do not like their environment changed and may appear 'upset' of 'angry', but they are just responding with fear to their territory being changed because it may indicate an threat to their survival. Us reacting to their 'upset' by becoming upset ourselves can exacerbate the chickens fear response.

    Breaking a broody can appear to upset them because we are blocking them from acting upon their instinctual behavior, but if you're calm and consistent and provide safety and food, they will usually quickly adapt. Allowing a broody to sit on non fertile eggs for weeks at a time may appear to appease her, but it can be detrimental to their health if they are not eating, drinking and exercising enough....or she may just give up eventually and resume her usual chickeny behaviors of eating, foraging and roosting with the flock.

    If you killed half the flock, there might be a fear reaction because flock numbers represent safety, there might be some ruckusing with the change in the pecking order...but I agree that they would quickly accept the new norm of fewer flock members and focus on the food available and who got the best spot on the roosts.

    Just my thoughts.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
    1 person likes this.
  6. azygous

    azygous True BYC Addict

    10,774
    4,204
    501
    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    I really enjoy discussions about chicken behavior. We can all agree they're extremely fascinating creatures.

    Of course chickens don't possess human emotions. They are chickens. But they certainly have emotions. As for knowing their names, what aart says is certainly true. They will key on certain words and sounds and associate them with things they desire and respond accodingly. But a few individuals do respond to their names - come when called.

    I have an EE, emotionally needy in her chickeny way, who hides from the flock and she will come when called. She's physically crippled from bursitis (probably a symptom of the lymphotic leucosis my flock is infected with), and she will creep out from under the coop when she hears her name, just far enough for me to bend down and pick her up. She always comes when I call her. Always. Like a dog.
     
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    18,045
    2,789
    466
    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Their intelligence seems most apparent when it comes to finding food and reducing energy expenditures when free-range kept. They also have a very broad range of vocalizations, a lot more than the 30+ typically cited. They are also very flexible in terms of behavior which means they can operate through learning, not just instinct. I can even demonstrate culture with some free-range flocks where older members cause younger members to behave in a particular manner based on the older animals experience.

    Considerable breed related differences also constrain mental performance of some relative to others. The stupid assessment most likely to be made with confined birds in simple environments.

    I have all sorts of fun trying to see just what he birds can learn to do. In some ways they are decidedly crow like.
     
    2 people like this.
  8. Torghn

    Torghn Out Of The Brooder

    22
    0
    22
    Jan 22, 2011
    When you compare them to other animals chickens are very "dumb". They can learn, but it seems more often than not they react or behave based more on instinct than anything else. Several of my birds have decided to roost in a small tree next to their coop. This was no big deal until it got really cold, windy, and wet. Now I'm worried they'll freeze when the weather is bad. I can tell they're cold as they jump down and huddle in the ample shelter just as soon as there is any morning light. I keep trying to convince them to use the coop, but some just don't get it. I think I'm just going to cut the tree down and see if that works.

    Compare this to my pig. He's incredibly intelligent, and is constantly figuring out how things work. When the weather got cold (it happend really fast this year, it dropped from the 60s to single digits in a week or so) he moved all his bedding out of the wind and under the shelter. He stacked the hay and made a nice little bed. I've even seen him remove any bedding that happens to get wet.
     
  9. PrintedPerfect

    PrintedPerfect Chillin' With My Peeps

    43
    2
    54
    Mar 19, 2014
    Nunnelly, TN

    Pigs are super smart from what I have heard, I have a Coonhound like that. Actually she and the one I had before her do things that absolutely baffle me. In fact, my 4 year old just hollered at me that she dragged her bed from my bedroom through the kitchen and into the living room - apparently she didn't want to lay in the bedroom!

    I had the same issue with my hens roosting in a tree at one point. What it turned out to be for us was that the hen house was too crowded for them. Every night I would have to get a ladder and grab the one that was insistent on going astray and carry her into the hen house. I moved them to a bigger hen house and it solved the problem. At first it was a huge challenge to get them to accept the new housing. For several nights I would go to the old hen house and carry them, one by one, to the new hen house, and of course get Rosie out of the tree. That got old fast, so I took someone's advice that worked like a charm. The last time I physically put them in the new hen house I left it closed for three days. Of course I fed them and everything, but didn't let them out at all during that time. On the fourth day I cut them loose to free range as usual. When nightfall came they all went into the new house willingly and without an iota of problem since. I guess locking them in forced them to get used to the new environment and become comfortable.

    I wouldn't cut the tree down that yours are roosting in as they'll just find another. Mine that roosted in the trees eventually changed positions to make it harder for me to get her.
     
  10. toddo

    toddo Out Of The Brooder

    39
    2
    26
    Mar 21, 2012
    Robinson Illinois
    Yesterday morning I looked out my back window and saw a Hawk eating on one of my RIR hens, my wife went and hollered at it while I was getting my rifle so it got lucky. I have 6 other girls and they stayed hidden in the brush until I got my outdoor clothes on and spent the rest of the day with my rifle hoping the hawk would come back. The girls came out from the brush and hung close to me until they went in the coop. Today they just kind of hung around the area the RIR was killed and made low calls, so I think that they do feel something. I also talk to my girls alot they are very good listeners, about my problems or I talk to them about plans to make their coop and run better for them, I'm not crazy but I love my girls and I get something from talking to them also. So I believe what you are saying about the chickens intelligence and feelings.
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by