10 October 2011

010 - The Realities of Urban Chicken Keeping

"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed" -The Little Prince

"How NOT to Raise Chickens" I don't agree entirely with this comic, but it gets the point across nicely of what the urban myths are about chicken keeping and the realities that people don't think about. Many of the topics in this comic I'll address here, as well.

EDIT: Chicken Run Rescue has posted an article that outlines basically what I've said below, plus gives some advice on re-homing your chickens if you honestly feel as though you can't handle them anymore. The article is found [Here]. EDIT OVER.

I admit, the first time I read that comic I was kind of offended by the assumption that people raising backyard poultry were moronic hipsters... then I started rescuing chickens from moronic hipsters. I have had so many people contact me lately who've wanted to "get a couple chickens" and I've stopped responding to them all together in favour of writing this blog post.

I have honestly been asked, on a number of occasions, "So egg laying stops in a couple of years and I don't want to keep my chickens after that, but I don't want to slaughter them. That's where you come in, right? I just give you all of my unwanted chickens?" I am, unfortunately, NOT making this up, and my straight-up answer is to grow a spine and slaughter your own chickens if you're going to be treating them as naught but live-stock because I am NOT a dumping ground for unwanted chickens - I rescue chickens from inhumane conditions, and if I ever need to "rescue" a chicken from you, I will NEVER give you a chicken.

A Couple of Chickens...

... is never enough. The minimum number of chickens for ideal psychological balance in a group if you're NOT going to be spending all of your time with them is seven. With seven chickens, regardless of sex, all social positions are filled and minimum flock balance is achieved. I would like to note that this is LARGER than most cities allow, as it's quite common for the legal number of chickens in a backyard to be between 2-5, which at those numbers if you want to maintain psychological balance in your flock, you WILL have to take an active role in your chickens lives!

Minimum outdoor space for your chicken if you want to make sure that they don't decimate an area is 124 sq ft per bird. This amount of space ensures that the amount of manure they drop will be composed and the grass re-grown by the time they make it over to that area again. In other words, you'll never be out of grass for your chickens to graze if your chickens are full-sized and you stick to this formula. I would then ASSUME that a bantam at 1/4 the size of a standard bird would need 1/4 the space, but I haven't researched that.

Similarly, a coop needs a minimum of 12 cubic feet per bird, though some people will try to tell you four to six cubic feet is all you need. Some people will also tell you that you only need to clean your coop twice a year, which is FALSE FALSE FALSE!! You should clean your coop NO LESS than every other week - my rule is that when you can't easily discern the floor from manure, clean it - this usually leaves me cleaning my coop every three days when the weather is bad enough that I have to keep them confined to the coop.

Note: Chickens defecate the MOST at night while they're roosting and sleeping, so if you put some newspapers below your chickens while they're sleeping and pick the papers up before they get up, you'll save a lot of time cleaning!

The Egg-a-Day Myth

I have been lucky and fortunate to have two VERY happy hens that have given me an egg a day almost since they started laying. When I had many hens, almost all of them gave me an egg a day, but that circumstance is EXCEPTIONALLY rare. My hens were healthy, happy, felt safe and confident, and at the time I may have been feeding them in such a way to encourage egg production. I even kept receiving eggs through the winter! However, my chickens were housed inside, exposed to light while I was awake, never exposed to snow or harsh winter weather, and again, healthy and happy.

This winter is my first moult, and my chickens have stopped laying all together. All of those precious nutrients that go into making eggs suddenly becomes diverted into creating fresh, new feathers. Encouraging egg-laying during this period is very, very bad since it then makes a year's worth of feathers very, very brittle and all-around unhappy. It can encourage bad skin conditions, feathers growing in wrong ( kind of like ingrown hairs ), and all sorts of bad things can happen.

Winter is also when chickens restock their "calcium glands". I have never found proof or documentation that there is an actual GLAND for calcium deposits, but there is a little thing near the ovaries that supplies the calcium needed to make a shell! It's important to feed crushed egg shells and oyster shells to chickens because if that calcium deposit runs out, calcium will be sucked from the bird's skeleton, making them much more prone to broken bones and other osteo-diseases.

An egg a day is exceptionally rare and most hens that produce lots of eggs are bred to do so. The most eggs to ever be produced was 364 by an Australorp sometime in the early 1900s, but the bloodline that produced this bird has since gone extinct and that hen was an anomaly even amongst her strain. It did bring rise to Australorp awareness on a global level, but the most eggs produced by breed will likely be white Leghorns, non-heritage Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Rocks, and sex-linked breeds such as anything ending with "star".

To receive eggs during the winter you must expose your chickens to fourteen hours of light a day. No special lighting is needed - just an average lamp will do. However, if you do this you will be depraving your chickens of their recovery period, which considering how hard it is on their bodies to lay as many eggs as they've been bred to do already, will drastically cut their life expectancies. Look for good winter layers such as Transylvanian Naked-Neck chickens ( also known as Turkens, but there is not an ounce of turkey in these birds - they're all chicken ), Delawares, or Faverolles to name a few. They don't lay as many eggs as other breeds, but that's to stretch out their laying during the winter.

Please remember that by encouraging egg-laying in your chickens, you are also encouraging a plethora of reproductive-related illnesses! Enhancing egg-laying also encourages such things as cloacal prolapse, egg-binding, egg peritonitis ( also known as "internal laying" ), cysts developing on the ovaries just to name a few ailments.

The number one reason the "egg a day" statement is a myth, though? It takes a hen's body 25-26 hours to MAKE an egg, meaning each day your hen will lay an hour ( or more ) LATER than she did the day before! That means that now and then she'll go to sleep before laying, and when that happens and she hasn't laid all the day before, she'll wake up the next day and lay her egg FIRST THING in the morning, skipping a day. You will not have received an egg that day!

However, if you're worried about having too many eggs in the summer and not enough during the winter, do not fret! On the outside of the egg is the "bloom" - this is an invisible protective layer created inside of the hen and comes into being immediately after the egg is laid and dries. The bloom is destroyed the moment it comes in contact with water. If you wash your eggs and refrigerate them immediately, your eggs will be good for about three months. If you do NOT wash your eggs ( instead gently brush off debris and use sand paper if there is some particularly stubborn debris - or just wash it right before you use it ), you can leave them out for up to a week and then refrigerate them and they'll be good up to SIX MONTHS! I have tested this, myself.

Worried that your egg is bad or you don't know when it was laid? Float-test it! As eggs "go bad", oxygen builds up inside of the shell. If your egg is bad, it will float in water. If your egg bounces off the bottom, floats to the top, and then goes back down... well, I'd throw it out, and if it bounces just a little bit ONLY use it in baking - do NOT fry or poach that egg!

My Chicken is Sick...

Well, too bad! As much as I hate to admit it, this is the response from MOST chicken owners to newbie chicken owners about sick or injured chickens. There is almost NO veterinary care aimed towards chickens, and almost all advice on chicken forums leads to either "kill it" or "stew pot". I am VERY fortunate to have a vet that is excited to work with my chickens and research whatever I bring to him, and to have worked with people who have had the patience to do what's best for their chickens, resulting in some incredible stories of survival and recovery.

When it comes to vaccines, though vaccines DO exist, they tend to be for flocks of 500-1000 chickens, and some vaccines can only be given to chicks no more than 72 hours old! Have a backyard flock of five chickens? Good luck finding a cost-effective way of vaccinating everyone against New Castle's, Marek's, or coccidiosis! I imagine that if you have a large-scale poultry farm near you that you might be able to talk to them about taking some of the cost of the vaccine, but I wouldn't bet on it. If they wanted it, they'd probably already have it, but they do get new batches of chicks every spring or every other spring, so if they DO vaccinate their chickens you could approach them before they get their chicks. I've never, personally, done this, but it's worth a shot, no?

Also keep in mind that MOST anti-worm and anti-parasitic medications make eggs "non-human consumable", and you'll have to wait 14-30 days before you can consume meat or eggs from treated birds. The bottle should tell you how long you have to wait. Same goes for "dusting" your chickens. Almost all medication and dust is toxic on some level ( poison the bird to poison the bug ), and NEVER use dust in a non-ventilated area. I dusted my chickens in my bath tub with the window open and fan on, and sprayed down the tub immediately afterward. Your coop MUST be sanitised at the same time as your birds, otherwise they'll just pick up the parasite again - I've heard good things about using vinegar, but watered-down bleach left to air dry is probably your best bet.

Does your hen have a prolapsed cloaca? The only way to solve this is surgically. You can stuff the cloaca back in, ice it, and all sorts of other remedies are out there, but it'll usually pop out again, and usually with the next egg. Ask your local vet about doing surgery on a bird - a chicken no less - and they'll probably laugh you out of the clinic! I called a clinic one when I had a scalped chick and they were all ready to get me in as soon as possible, then the woman on the line asked, "You said you had a CAT, right?" and I said, "No, a chick! A baby chicken!"

"Oh," she said, deflated, "Uhm... we'll... call you back, okay?" She hung up and NEVER called back. This was my experience with every single clinic until I found the one I'm currently with ( Farm House Veterinary run by Dr. Widener for anyone in the Olympia, Washington area! ).

Do you want to neuter your rooster to keep him from plucking all the feathers on your hens due to incessant mounting, or to lessen aggression, or to make him pretty and his meat supple? This is called "caponising" and is RARELY done these days. There's only a 33% survival rate since it's an internal surgery ( the chicken's testicles are up on their backs under their ribs ). All pet chickens are "intact" and you have to deal with sexual aggression whether you want to or not - from both sexes!

Chickens are one of the only animals without slaughter rights today. All birds lack slaughter rights, but other animals such as cows, goats, sheep, and pigs have slaughter rights. Why? Because when the laws about slaughter rights were being made, chickens were considered "too unintelligent to comprehend pain". There are NO laws to protect chickens against abuse or inhumane conditions - both in keeping and in killing, which brings us to our next topic...

Recycling / Upcycling Chickens

Ever heard of chicken recycling plants or upcycling? Also known as "trading in" your chickens for newer, fresher ones. At eighteen months is usually when egg production declines, and if you've pumped your chickens for every last egg in that amount of time, they'll be spent, and their egg laying might even abruptly stop. Urban chicken keepers don't realise that chickens are NOT egg-laying machines, they need maintenance and there's a moment where you have to decide if they're earning their keep anymore.

Obviously, my chickens earn their keep just by being chickens. By being cute, cuddly feathered friends that love me as much as I love them. However, for a lot of people, a chicken's keep is earned directly by how many eggs they produce. Considering start-up, maintenance, and feed costs, collecting your own eggs is NOT cheap, and it definitely will NOT be cheaper than buying eggs from the store. Farm-fresh eggs are expensive, and store-bought eggs have cut so many corners to produce that they're pretty darn cheap.

If you recycle, upcycle, or trade in your chickens, here is the unfortunate truth about what happens...

Your chicken will die. It will die an awful death that you could prevent by learning how to humanely slaughter, yourself, or by simply never engaging in the backyard chicken fad.

Your chicken has known you for about two years now. It knows your face and your voice, and you are a part of its flock - even if you ARE ill-adjusted, and your chicken knows it, your chicken still loves you. It loves you unconditionally, and every time it attacks you, it's trying to help you. Honest-to-God, it is TRYING to discourage behaviours that it sees as "unhealthy" and help you live right! I'm seriously not making that up, I've addressed it in previous posts.

You put your chicken into a crate or other holding facility for a car-ride to the recycling plant. If your chicken has been on car rides before, cool! It's familiar with this part, and it'll probably calm down after awhile even if it isn't. It can still hear you, and that, at least, is comforting. When you arrive, you take your chicken out and the whole place is big and strange! Who are these other people? You hand your chicken over to the other people and you leave. Well, you leave every day after feeding them and putting them to bed, so maybe when it's dark you'll come back... but in the mean time there's these people that are handling your chicken very roughly and probably not even treating it as a living creature.

Remember, chickens are business, and businesses put on faces that best appeal to their prospective buyers! They'll tell you what you want to hear ( "she's going to a nice farm", or "she'll be killed quickly and humanely" ), and with the laws surrounding chicken keeling and slaughter, they are NOT, technically, lying! As soon as you leave, or your chicken goes out of sight, it is no longer a bright, nice world.

"Spent" chickens are shoved into a cage full of other chickens so tightly that they can NOT move, and shipped off to a slaughtering plant. Many chickens break wings and legs in this process, and several die in transportation, some from suffocation, some from panic. At the slaughtering plant, no laws maintain humane treatment so the chickens are often unloaded roughly and shoved, even kicked and thrown towards their destinations. The most humane form of slaughter is where the chicken's feet are shoved into metal clamps that hold them upside-down. First the conveyor belt dips the chickens into a trench of water that is pulsed with electricity - up to about 80% are unaffected by this step. It's supposed to use just enough electricity to knock them out, but not kill them. The next step, the chickens are brought through a line of spinning blades that are supposed to slit their throats and allow them to bleed out, killing them that way - many survive this step. The next step, the belt again dips them into water - this time their whole bodies, and the water is just under 140*F. Many chickens survive even THIS, and are alive as their bodies are pulverised by feather-plucking machines!

As you can see, supervising your own slaughter of your own poultry is MUCH more humane than recycling and trading in.

Auctions are just about as bad as upcycling, and most people buying poultry at auctions have a "live stock" mentality and are experienced farmers or breeders. Breeding chickens can be just as laborious and inhumane as egg production since eggs are encourage and produced, males are encouraged to mate ( resulting in "over mated" hens which can result in grave injuries ), and eggs are hatched out in incubators or sold as fertilised. I have NOT encountered as many horror stories from breeding-stock chickens as I have from meat or egg production, though. Almost all roosters bought at auctions are slaughtered immediately either for their meat or their feathers. Cat toys and most fishing flies use rooster feathers if they use feathers at all, and almost ALL craft store feathers are from meat-production turkeys that have been dyed. It is UNPROFITABLE to keep a rooster alive just for his feathers, though, so don't expect a particularly pretty bird to be well-off!

Predator Proofing

The number one cause of chicken casualties outside of intentional slaughter is predators, followed closely by weathering ( over heating and frost bite to be precise ), and finally chicken-specific diseases ( especially reproductive ones for hens ), and poor sanitation ( leading to disease ). Almost all newbie chicken owners will have a run-in with their first predator pretty quick, since chickens are pretty darn high on the list of easy prey for most predators.

Here's a list of common predators, just for starters: neighbourhood dogs and cats, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, hawks, eagles, osprey, weasels, snakes, foxes, mink, cougars, bears...

Neighbourhood pets, though not very hunting-savvy, tend to do the most damage on urban flocks since their instincts to chase are still there, but they have no idea what to do with a dead body, most of the time. Dogs will dig into your yard, cats will jump the fence, and they'll "play" with your chooks to death. Raccoons and opossums have been my biggest ire, especially when my housemates left their chickens COMPLETELY unguarded and open to night-time predation. If you have a wide field for free-ranging, raptors will be your ire since they'll swoop in and take a chicken in the time it takes for you to answer the phone. Foxes, weasels, and raccoons will dig under and fencing you have, or reach in through fencing and "grab" chickens, killing them without even being able to get them through the wire. Cougars and bears will tear down your entire coop and enclosure without prejudice to what they're destroying, and they might even become aggressive towards you if they associate you with the easy meals.

Another common problem is rats and mice. Rodents need to chew things CONSTANTLY, and if you have roosting chickens, that will include their toes. Don't believe me? This thread on Backyard Chickens shows very graphic photos of what many believe were mice or rats that chewed off the faces of several silkie chickens! Others suspect raccoons, but the incidents ceased all together once hardware cloth was placed over all the openings to the coops.

How do you predator-proof an area? Lots of money, for one. Proper fencing is necessary, and for ultimate protection double fence everything with at least a foot between your inside and outside fencing and put nets over the tops of your runs. If you have a huge yard or range that you're letting your chickens run in, I've heard that just putting strings of fishing wire tied off to sticks here and there helps to discourage hawks. Always bury your fencing at least a foot underground or bury large rocks in the ground around your fence, and put rocks or planks in front of any gate structures you have. Make sure coops are well ventilated, but free from drafts and any openings where chickens can get out or mice can get in.

Proofing against big predators is a bit harder, and foxes and raccoons can be tenacious and intelligent predators. I, personally, have never had to protect against any but the raccoons, and the coop in the garage seems to have discouraged them nicely. However, I have heard wonderful things about electric fencing both to keep poultry in and predators out. If your poultry is getting out the two most likely ways I've found is that they scoot UNDER fencing ( they will unintentionally dig out, too - I say unintentionally because they'll take dust baths near the edge until they happen to notice it's deep enough to squeeze under ), or they fly OVER fencing by jumping up, landing on the top, and jumping back down. A low-volt electric wire on the top and bottom of your fencing should do well to keep your birds in.

However, if you're not worried about your chickens escaping, a wire or two running just OUTSIDE of your enclosure might be best. I have also heard of a product called "Nite Guard" that is a little box that flashes a red light to scare away predators ( as well as deer if you're having issues keeping them out of your garden! ). You just set it up around your enclosure, although I have no idea how many or just how they work since I don't have to worry too much about night-time predators what with my coop inside the house and all. I have, however, heard multiple accounts of them working well, and know several people that will swear by this product.

Similar to how the Nite Guard works, I have heard that for repelling predators ( and again, deer ) during the day, some people hang shiny things around their property such as CDs, shiny ribbons or metallic tape. The key is to let the items move in the wind so that it simulates the same "flashing" as the above-mentioned product, and with these you can be really creative. Since you're trying to catch wind, you can try to mimic other wind-catcher products such as chimes, swirly things with lots of ribbons, metal art ( so long as it's polished and shiny ), and much more! You can really decorate your property with these things since there's never too many of them, and if you have children, it's a great way to encourage them to be involved with the safety of your livestock and gardens!

Lastly, if you want to predator-proof your poultry... invest in an ostrich, emu, or rhea! Emus are mid-ranged in size, and have the best temperament, and make the best pets out of these three. Rheas are slightly smaller, and tend to be more common, but they require behavioural upkeep to prevent aggression, and they NEED structure. If your poultry is unstructured, a rhea is NOT for you. Ostriches have a bad reputation for being mean, nasty creatures, but with proper structure and socialisation, they can make wonderful additions to a farm. They need about as much room as a horse, but due to their size and potential power I would say the same rule applies to an ostrich as a rhea: If you cannot provide proper structure and spend LOTS of time with your birds to maintain flock balance, do NOT acquire an ostrich.

Ostriches, emus, and rheas do a fantastic job of integrating into poultry flocks, especially when they're raised around poultry as chicks, and if you adopt one into your flock they'll never know that they're NOT with their native species. These large birds do a marvellous job of discouraging many predators, and will often take the dominant role in the flock, meaning that they'll take it upon themselves to protect the flock at all costs. Turkeys do a wonderful job to maintain flock balance, though they tend to be just as much of targets to predators to chickens, so if anyone out there can report on the benefits of keeping turkeys for balance, and big birds for protection, I'd love to hear about it! My vet was actually the one who tipped me off to emus, and he has quite a varied flock by the sounds of it.

I, personally, keep my coop in the garage now, and have plans for fencing off the back yard and putting in a place where I can sit in a lawn chair and hang out with my chooks while they get to roam around outside.

Oh No, it's a Boy!

50% of all chicks hatched are male. Compare that to 1/3 of all humans being born male, and only 20% of crows are male. Chickens are pretty evenly matched in that area! If you've ever noticed the trend in the fall of free roosters EVERYWHERE, it's because so many people think it'll be fun to let their hens hatch a brood of chicks, or they buy a "straight run" of chicks ( "straight run" means the chicks are NOT sexed and could be either ) to raise, not realising that half of all those chicks are going to be boys! Now imagine if you let a couple of hens hatch, let's say... twenty-four eggs. You'll end up with twelve roosters! Who wants twelve roosters?? Other than cock fighters, and crazy people who love chickens no matter what they are, that is.

Big-time hatcheries have ways around this. Murray McMurray hatches out about 80,000 chicks PER WEEK. 40,000 of those are boys, which are unprofitable, and end up tossed into boxes of male / female, where the females are shipped out to their new homes ( again, no humane treatment laws, so they're packed tight with extra chicks as "packaging peanuts" - often times males - and as "luggage", MOST chicks being shipped out via air which means they're in the cold, jostling environment of all other air-borne shipments ), and males are shoved on a conveyor belt that drops them into a grinding machine ( all while alive! ), where they're ground into low-grade animal feed. "Chicken" in dog and cat food is often made of these discarded males, and some chicken feed even includes this "by-product"! I don't tend to buy into the idea that chicks die of dehydration or starvation when shipped since in nature, chicks hatched first will often times wait two to three days before all the other chicks are hatched and mum gets up off the nest to take everyone out foraging for the first time, and the last of the nutrients from their yolk is absorbed into them in this time, but they will die of exposure and shock.

Murray McMurray actually practices one of the more "humane" means of discarding males. Other factories will just dump the male chicks into industrial-sized trash cans, letting the chicks suffocate under each other, or stomping them to death to make room for more chicks to be shoved in. Chicks on the tops of the trash cans have the bag tied shut and are tossed into dumpsters, often times living for days before dying of starvation or dehydration. Sometimes male chicks are gassed, but the gas required to do this is expensive, and for an animal with no laws regarding humane treatment, such an expense is often times ruled unnecessary.

So you asked for pullets only, but one of your girls is growing awfully quick and her comb and wattles are big and red, and she's only four weeks old! Well, some breeds of chickens are awfully hard to sex ( such as Silkies and Polishes ), and some boys have very hard to discern bits, and when talking about 40,000 males a WEEK, you're bound to get a mix-up here and there. If you "return" your boy, he'll more likely than not be slaughtered, and if you give him away he'll probably turn into stew or have his feathers sold as fly ties or crafting feathers. Or, he'll go into the fighting industry.

Well, you've made it past all of that and you only have girls! Hooray! You're even receiving eggs out of all of them when one morning... you're awoken by someone crowing?? Here's a reality check you probably NEVER thought about: hens crow! A crowing hen is MOST likely to happen when she lived in a flock with males, and the males were abruptly cut out of her life and it's upon her to take their position. SOME hens take this so seriously that they'll actually TURN INTO A FERTILE, SEXUALLY ACTIVE COCK. Again, I'm not kidding - it's called "Emma-Turns-Into-a-Guy Syndrome". Chickens are exceptionally strange creatures regarding their sexuality since hermaphrodites and other sexual anomalies are extremely common amongst them! Although it's MOST common for this to happen when males are abruptly cut from a flock, and a female takes the role of the male, it is NOT unheard of for this to happen to female-only flocks that have had naught but females for generations.

Domestication is...

This is my biggest rant so far when it comes to chickens, dogs, cats, pigs, cows and ALL domesticated animals. Domestication is a process that takes generations of selective breeding to achieve. Domestication first happened tens of thousands of years ago, with a good likelihood that the dog was the first domesticated creature. Chickens were domesticated roughly 8,000 years ago ( most estimates point towards 6,000BC ). Domestication makes an animal reliant on humans not only for food, water, and shelter, but psychologically as well.

When domestication first began taking place, humans still roamed with the animals, and understood the balance between dominant, submission, and a group of animals. If you are dominant to your dog, he behaves well, respects you, and doesn't suffer from a poorly balanced pack. Chickens, just as sheep, cows, pigs, cats, and all other early-on domesticated animals, fell into the same niche. Their person was the head of their flock, and they followed and trusted this person unconditionally. That's why in many third-world countries people can walk their animals to markets without need for leashes or anything to contain their animals - because they are their animals leaders, their dominant, and the animals respect and follow that.

There is NO such thing as a "wild" chicken - even the flocks that have overtaken Hawaii are still domestic, and still respond well to strong, dominant figures. Whereas a pig can "go feral" in a number of weeks, pigs are quite unique in that. Most other domesticated animals take several generations to "go feral" again - chickens amongst those. The backyard chicken still needs an assertive, dominant, strong leader to follow, and they need structure in their day with rules, boundaries, and limitations to follow and abide by. Like dogs, chickens thrive when they have a person to please on a day-to-day level.

Since many backyard flocks are NOT legally allowed to be big enough to maintain its own structure ( seven or more ), that means it is absolutely imperative that people take an active role in their chicken's lives to maintain a sense of balance. As I've said in previous posts, it is possible to create your OWN pecking order that you and only you keep up, and even in the largest of flocks your presence should still be welcomed and respected. If your rooster is attacking you when you enter the coop, or if the girls scream and flee, your presence is not respected and you're not doing your job of keeping these domesticated animals as happy and healthy as our ancestors intended.

Your chicken is emotionally connected to you and each other. If one chicken needs to be "rehomed" for ANY reason, NEVER send it alone - always send it with its best friend for best luck of being accepted into its new home and adjusting well, even if your chicken is going to be an indoor pet spending ALL of its time with you, it will do best with a buddy. Likewise, never adopt a chicken alone!

Chickens are one of the only animals that have been recorded to empathise with others ( that is, their emotional state is affected by others ), and they are so emotionally connected with each other that they will mourn the passing of a flock-mate ( including humans! ). Chickens can remember up to 150 different faces and voices for up to three years, and when their pattern of meeting those faces and voices is disrupted, they'll figure out that said flock member is gone. Chickens are also intelligent enough to understand death upon observing it. If a cat kills a chick in front of another chicken, that chicken will remember that instance and begin alerting to all other cats even if it had never raised alarm around a cat before then! Likewise, if chickens witness a traumatic slaughter for another chicken, they will be traumatised, whereas if you practise calm, humane slaughtering techniques within the vicinity of your chickens, they will be more compliant come their time to go.

What's extremely remarkable about chickens is that their recognition skills and empathy is cross-species. They can empathise with humans as well as dogs, cats, and horses, as well as recognise faces and voices amongst difference species. They are highly intelligent and require our care and attention to attain the best they can in life.

If you are new to chickens and are considering starting a flock, please be aware of all of these facts before you begin your journey. If your chickens are going to be discarded after their egg-laying declines or because of their sex, make CERTAIN you can slaughter your chickens yourself in the most humane fashion possible, or that you know EXACTLY what's happening to them and you are okay with that outcome. If you can read this post and know that you understand and consent to all of these facts, then welcome to the world of raising chickens. If you do not feel comfortable with what you have read, then maybe chicken-keeping isn't for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I haven't yet figured out if the commenting feature of the blog is working to where I'll be notified, but I will ALWAYS respond to Emails in a fairly timely manner. Best of luck to all of you chicken-lovers out there!

1 comment:

  1. I can not believe no one has commented on this yet! I have been researching chicken "stuff" for the past 6 months or so, with a view to getting Bantams, once I've learned enough (though I know once they arrive, it's when the real learning actually starts). I have all sorts of animals, but have never kept chickens.

    ANYway... what you have written up there s THE BEST information I've come across. This is what people need to know, but info like this is so hard to come by. I want to know as much as I can about chicken behavior & how they feel, so I can keep mine as well & happy as I can.

    I'm putting effort into their housing/diet/care n all that too, but knowing the above is gold.

    Thank you very much for offering us your experience & your time!!! You're awesome ;)