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Chickens Aren't Bird-Brains. They're Amazing!
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Chickens Aren't Bird-Brains. They're Amazing!

Posted 22 April 2011   by         Permalink | 15 Comments

Tags: Chickens, eggs, meat, Easter

Whenever Easter is upon us I start thinking of the usual suspects: rabbits and chickens (although what a rabbit has to do with eggs I'm still trying work out!). I've not had a lot to do with bunnies but chooks hold a firm place in my heart, even though they're sometimes referred to as ...well, bird brains!

A study last year proved that chickens are in fact, incredibly clever. So much so that they have different calls for things like food, and because of this females are more likely to choose their mates based on intelligence (ie "how good is he at finding food and then telling me about it?")

I already knew that chooks are pretty special, and this was confirmed during a nutrition assignment I did two years ago at Uni. Each group had 20 day old chicks (10 boys and 10 girls) that had been bred for the meat industry (called broiler chickens). We were to feed them, weigh them, assess their health, etc every day for 6 weeks, even on weekends. I knew what their fate was at the end of the project so I offered to take ours home. I knew I could find homes for 20 chooks and probably even more. But my supervisor told me it was pointless. You see broiler chickens can't live past 7 weeks even if they aren't sent to slaughter.


After years of selective breeding for fast growth, these baby birds were growing at an epic rate right before our eyes. Meat chickens now grow three times faster than normal. By 6 weeks old they are the size of fully grown birds, only they are still babies, chirping and struggling to move their massive bodies using underdeveloped baby legs.

That was a very tough 6 weeks for me. These birds got to know us and were friendly and funny. One girl would even run to the edge of the cage when she saw us coming, so sweet. Number 5 was her name. Isn't that cold? Number 5.

During the project, two of our birds died. One boy had a blocked crop (the part on their throat where the food gets kind of ground up and digested), possibly after he'd accidently swallowed some sawdust from the floor litter, so he kept eating as his crop became huge and his body became malnourished. He was starving and we knew he wouldn't get better without medical treatment. But that would involve putting him on different feeds, which would ruin the project data, God forbid. Eventually a uni worker 'euthanised' him by chopping his head off. Imagine if we euthanised our pets this way! The second boy flipped onto his back while I was refilling the feed one day. His wings flapped frantically, slamming the cage floor as I desperately called for help. Then he just stopped and lay still. His young overworked heart had given out under the immense weight of his mutant body. He was finally at peace, and I stroked him goodbye through tears.


By week 6 of the project, Number 5 didn't run to greet us anymore. She couldn't. She could hardly move at all. Not even to reach the feeders or the water trays which were actually moved up higher and higher to encourage the chicks to stand. But it was just too painful for her. It was almost like the feeder trays were mocking our hungry friend.

The final day was the worst. The girls in my group and I picked up our birds lovingly and held them to us, saying "goodbye" and "sorry" as we moved them into the trays that would be stacked on top of each other on the back of a truck. We sobbed the whole time. It was a sunny day and the birds squinted at the huge ball of fire in the sky that they'd never seen before. They wouldn't see it for long. The truck drove off to the slaughterhouse, with our beautiful clever birds on board, Number 5 wondering where she was off to on this cramped bumpy ride and wondering what kind people would be there when she arrived. Even the sickest birds were on there, weak from hunger, joints aching, some with newly blocked crops. I cried as much as I've ever cried before as white baby bird feathers flew past my face and the truck rattled down the road.

I'd already stopped eating chicken years before this happened. But I decided then and there that I couldn't eat eggs either. Even though our birds weren't layer hens, I knew I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the exploitation of an amazing species I now loved. And that certainly meant no more eggs. (I've since discovered so much horror behind eggs!)

So these new research findings are nothing new to me. Chickens are truly incredible birds full of personality and love. And they are anything but "bird brains"!

If you must decorate an egg this Easter, use papier mache and paint away! Or buy a dairy-free chocolate egg and tie a ribbon around it in tribute to the millions of intelligent chickens that suffer and die for meat and eggs in Australia each year.


You could even symbolically adopt your own baby bird as a reminder that we need to do all we can to help these chickens. I already have. She sits on my desk and I named her Number 5.

Have you had an experience like this before?

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Pegs Pegs 22 April 2011
That is so sad! Poor chickens. And yes, I definitely agree, chickens aren't bird brains! They are a smart, intelligent species, which also loves, feels, and makes you laugh!
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...2 ...2 22 April 2011
We used to take ex-battery hens so that they weren't sent to the slaughter and could live out the last of their days in a happy, free range environment (we're talking four acres of free range, kept in a 20x20 meter enclosure at night to protect them from foxes, etc.). At the same time, we got a heap of 'prized', chickens, the fancy breeds that people raise for shows and things. the pedigree chickens are still alive today. The ex-battery hens were lucky to live a year. The winters were the hardest on them. sad It's tragic.
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James Calvaruso James Calvaruso 23 April 2011
@ pegs: I know I could of cried when I saw the pic. Those animals should be outside and free.
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TofuUnleashed TofuUnleashed 23 April 2011
Aww! cry
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TofuUnleashed TofuUnleashed 23 April 2011
Bring on the vegan easter eggs and the vegan easter buns made with egg replacer (and other vegan ingredients)! tongue pig dance
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BellaJane BellaJane 24 April 2011
I have four chickens and they are the smartest, most willful animals I have ever met! My darling girls will follow me where ever I go, harass me for treats (they love corn on the cob) and generally boss me around. I love them dearly. To me eating a chicken is a strange as eating a dog or cat.... confused
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toolangi toolangi 24 April 2011
I have had chickens as pets, the last one, a Silver Grey Dorking named Esmarelda now lives with her bantum foster mother(the hen that hatched her) at my daughters, just the two of them.  Esmarelda used to get so excited to see me, she would come running and if I sat on the step she would climb on my lap and sit there while I stroked her.  She loved it so much it was always my decision to stop patting her, not hers!  I don't see her much now but when I visit my daughters  Esmarelda comes running up for me to pat her and she tells me all about her day while I cuddle her.  Bird Brain?  No-way!  Loving, intelligent, funny, interesting, are all words I use to describe chickens. chick love
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James misty calvaruso James misty calvaruso 25 April 2011
I know right, chickens are really cleaver and are not bird brains at all. The are also extremely cute when they are little babies. I just don't understand how people can be so cruel to animals, I mean how would THEY like to be kept in overcrowded coops and all of that.

Go the chicks  chick
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HayleyMac HayleyMac 25 April 2011
This made me cry when you said you named the toy Number 5...
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mickroz mickroz 1 May 2011
I have 4 Plymouth Rock hens, 2 white and 2 dark barred. I have had them since they were 6 weeks old and just adore them!
They greet me everyday with such excitement and squat down with their wings out waiting for their pat happy
I just love sitting and watching them go about their business.
To know that so many others dont live the same life as mine just breaks my heart sad
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Judy1 Judy1 1 May 2011
Can you explain the difference between Animals Australia and Unleashed is it the same org
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Karen Karen 1 May 2011
Hi Judy, you'll find the answer to your question here:

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AliceinWhorrorland AliceinWhorrorland 20 May 2011
This is so sad, I every few years go to my mums friends place in QLD and the chickens there are so sweet! They're really friendly and curious, I think that family might eat their eggs but they're natural, not forced out of the chickens by torture =)
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Okami ovo vegetarian Okami ovo vegetarian 14 November 2014
Awww those poor lil baby chickens.
I hate those stupid hatching programs,
Noisey school kids and rough grabbing hands is no fun to an intelligent sensitive baby bird.
chick chick chick angry angry  cry  cry cry cry cry cry cry furious furious sad sad scared scared
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Okami ovo vegetarian Okami ovo vegetarian 15 November 2014
Chickens show empathy as well,
Need proof? I had a silkie bantam hen who was the most bossy aggressive puffball you've ever met but her friend was shy, nice, introverted, and was the lowest of the flock as well,
One cold day in winter, the first cold day of winter, the 16 of may, she got too wet and caught ammonia and I didn't know
You had to blow dry silkies when they get wet,
Before she died my other chickens went in to check on her, say goodbye, and had a little chicken funeral for her.
When I got home she was dead and I cried for her and we buryed her.
Think of her next time you eat your Christmas chicken dinner.

All the best,
Okami isa McKenzie.
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