For those of us who have kept chickens for any length of time, we like to think we know one or two things about them. Like what time they rise for breakfast all the way through to their favourite things to eat (for ours it’s worms)!
However, we’d bet that below we have compiled 20 surprising things even the most seasoned chicken-keeper wouldn’t know before reading this…
1. Chicken See Better Than Humans
It’s widely believed that chickens are colour blind and have poor vision- this is not the case. They actually have better vision than humans.
Humans have three different cone types in their eyes which mean we can perceive red, green and blue colours. Whereas chickens have an additional two cone types which allows them to also distinguish violet and ultraviolet light.
This means roosters can see the sunrise and crow well before humans can even see the sunrise- often this is around an hour before humans can see the sunrise.
2. Chickens Teach Each Other
So you thought it was only humans who taught their offspring? Nope, hens teach their chicks from a young age what they should and shouldn’t eat.
In a laboratory, scientists tested this and found that mother hens taught their chicks to avoid certain coloured grains. [source]
3. They Have Their Own Language
Chickens have over 30 unique noises they can produce- all of which are used for different purposes. Their clucks and crows are mostly used to raise an alarm, normally either for danger or food!
We say over 30 unique noises but in reality it’s probably much higher than this, however so far scientists have only tracked 30. [source]
Roosters, for example, have different vocalizations that alert their hens to newly discovered food items. He will cluck to them to tell them to stop by and have a snack, and as always, ladies first.
A rooster’s crow alarms hens of impending danger, but it can also be a way of communicating with their caretakers when they need something.
Roosters will also show his hens where he believes are the perfect nesting areas. He will snuggle into a small space and cluck lightly to his hens to showcase how, and where, they should nest.
4. Chickens Know Who Their Owners Are
Chickens can recognise up to one hundred human faces. This means it doesn’t take them long to recognise who their owners are and who the nice person is that feeds them every morning.
In-fact many chicken owners even claim that their chickens can recognise their pet dogs- however we haven’t introduced our dogs to the chickens yet… just in case!!
5. The Earliest Chicken Joke Is Dated To 1847
So we all love a good why did the chicken cross the road joke!
Q: Why did the chicken run across the road?
A: There was a car coming.
Q: Why did the rubber chicken cross the road?
A: She wanted to stretch her legs.
Moving swiftly on from these poor jokes! The first chicken joke was written in 1847 in the New-York Monthly Magazine.
6. Chicks Are Smarter Than Babies
Object permanence is the ability to understand that objects still exists even if it they are not visible.
Human babies can typically grasp object permanence at around seven months- however baby chicks develop this ability sometimes in as little as 2 days old.
7. Chickens Dream
Did you know that chickens experience rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep? Its during REM sleep that we dream- we like to think that our chickens are dreaming about that nice fresh straw we’ve just lined their nesting box with. Or, perhaps that lovely fresh water we’ve just filled their drinker with!
8. The Oldest Chicken Ever Lived To 22 Years Old.
The average chicken has a life expectancy of around 3 to 4 years due to their vulnerability to predators and diseases. However, well cared for backyard chickens can live to around double at 7-8 years.
However, Muffy, the oldest chicken ever, lived until she was 22 years old! Muffy was a Red Quill Muffed American Game born in Maryland.
9. Hens Comb’s Get Larger Just before They Lay
Hens give off numerous signs when they are ready to lay an egg. For instance, her comb will become a much more vivid red and she will act more submissively.
10. Chickens Were the First Bird to Have Their DNA Sequenced
Back in 2004 the chicken genome was sequenced- this makes them the first bird ever to have their entire genome sequenced…
11. Chickens Outnumber Humans By Roughly 4 To 1
If we include every single type of chicken breed there are over 25,000,000,000 (billion) currently on earth. Not only does this make them the most common type of bird on the planet it also means they nearly outnumber humans by 4 to 1.
12. Dinosaurs = Chicken?
Chickens can be traced back to the theropods- a group of saurischia dinosaurs which date back to the late Triassic period (around 200 million years ago).
It’s strange to think isn’t it that those tiny little chickens in our backyard have evolved from something as dangerous as a t-rex! [source]
13. Hens Talk To Their Chicks before They Hatch
Did you know that hens ‘talk’ or cluck to their chicks whilst they are still in their eggs? As the chicks grow older and develop within the eggs they also begin to peep and squeak back to their mum.
This helps the chicks to create a bond with their mother before they even hatch.
When chicks hatch, they know their mother’s voice and will follow it everywhere. If you’ve allowed your hen to brood on her nest and hatch her own chicks you’ve had the opportunity to witness an iron-clad relationship between mother hen and chick. Those babies know their mum’s voice from day one.
14. Chickens Are Speedy
Ok, if you’ve ever tried to round chickens up you already know just how fast they are. I still remember the first time I tried to chase the chickens into their coop- An hour later they were still merrily clucking outside!!
But do you know how fast chickens can run? They can get up to 9mph for short bursts, but chickens real advantage comes in their agility- they can turn on a six-pence.
This speedy and agility really helps to keep them safe from predators- or helps them avoid us when we are trying to round them up back into their coop.
15. Chickens Have Hierarchies
The term pecking order comes from chickens because they operate a very strict hierarchy- with those chickens and the top of the hierarchy laying down the rules to those chickens beneath them.
In fact if you introduce two flocks of chickens together they will normally joust each other to determine this order. The pecking order isn’t solely for the hens it also includes roosters and they normally dominate the pecking order. If you watch hens closely they will feed close to the most dominant roosters because he will protect them.
16. Chickens Love Playing
If you keep chickens in your own backyard you will certainly know this, however if you have never seen free range chickens before this fact might surprise you…
Chickens like to spend a large part of their day running, scraping, and jousting other chickens.
17. Dust Baths Are Chickens Best Friends
In any chicken pen you will see huge chicken sized holes in the ground- have you ever wondered what they are for?
Chickens just love to dig down into the ground and create themselves a ‘dust’ bath. They do this to keep themselves clean and also during the summer to try and cool down.
18. Domesticated Chickens Came From Asian Jungle Fowl
Many researchers now believe that the domesticated chickens we keep in our backyard originate from Asian jungle fowl.
Unfortunately, historically, this jungle fowl was first domesticated for the purpose of cockfighting. Fortunately cockfighting is now banned in many countries throughout the world. [source]
19. Certain Breeds Are About To Become Extinct.
Despite there being some 25 billion chickens alive today- more traditional breeds are increasingly at risk of becoming extinct. This is because many farmers now prefer hybrid chickens who consume minimal amounts of food and produce vast quantities of eggs…
If you are interested in seeing which breeds are at risk be sure to visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
20. A Dozen Eggs Needs Four Pounds of Feed
For a normal hen to lay 12 eggs they need to consume roughly four pounds of feed.
21. Chickens Have Friendly Personalities
Some people think chickens are never to be considered pets. On the contrary, there are many breeds that are friendlier than other breeds. And even within certain breeds, there’s always an exception to the rule.
Some, who have experienced the companionship of a friendly chicken, have begun bringing chickens into nursing homes and schools to provide therapy or companionship. Some chickens enjoy being held and are tame enough to help others who need a boost.
So these are our favourite things that we didn’t know about chickens before writing this article. Leave us a comment below with an interesting fact about chickens you think we won’t know!