Friday, July 21, 2017

How smart are chickens?

If you've been around chickens any length of time there's no doubt you've heard someone go on and on about how smart their chickens are. Some people have trained their chickens to come when called, do tricks and even run obstacle courses. You've probably also heard someone complaining about how stupid their chickens are. So, which is it?

Personally, I have chickens that come when called and know their own names. Most flocks that free range are coop trained to come back at night. If nothing else, almost all chickens learn what the treat bag looks like or know what door you come out when you have treats and come running when they see you.


Are chickens smart?

Everyone with backyard chickens and a garden will tell you how chickens are smart enough to see what's in the garden and plot how to get to it by going over, under or even through the fencing. That takes a bit of reasoning, or maybe a whole lot of trial and error...either way, it's not stupid!

Studies have been done on just how much chickens can comprehend, reason and communicate with each other and the shocking result is...they're about as smart as a 4 year old child

What?

It's true. According to Psychology Today, chickens:
  • Have basic arithmetic capacities
  • Can demonstrate self-control and self-assessment 
  • Perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events
  • Have complex negative and positive emotions

This is sad news for those of us that have taken a chick or two away from a mama and said "chickens can't count" because apparently, they can! This study conducted in Italy shows that chicks can count and keep track of numbers of objects. They repeatedly choose the larger number of objects even after researchers shuffled the objects and hid them behind screens.

According to the Humane Society of The United States, chickens also have good memories and can remember people, places and things even after months apart. The can also plan ahead and take into account prior experience when confronted with any situation.

Now the argument can be made that they are simply motivated by food. Many of the studies done have used treats as a reward so that wouldn't be entirely wrong. However, that is the same way we train dogs, cats and other animals so it's not an uncommon practice. The fact that they recognize the reward for their effort and anticipate it does say a bit about their intelligence level. 

dumb chickens

This picture above is of my olive egger Sally investigating the freshly plowed garden. She is 8 years old and the oldest chicken we have. For the last 6 years of her life we have used the tractor to plow the garden. We do this twice a year. So approximately a dozen times in her life this has happened and she remembers that as soon as the tractor goes into the garden, the best bugs will be right behind it. She does this every year! (here's a picture from this year on Instagram) Obviously chickens can remember events and anticipate consequences if she can recall this and act on it each time.

Now you could say that she and the other chickens just learned that the tractor equals good bugs and that would make sense. Except, they never follow the tractor into the woods or anywhere else around the property. They don't care when it's digging post holes, plowing snow or grinding stumps. They only run to it when it's in the garden.

Of course we've all met a chicken or two that aren't particularly intelligent so this might not sound entirely correct. Enough people think that chickens are stupid that they must have gotten that idea somewhere, right? I suppose that the variety of intelligence levels are the same across all species. You get some bright bulbs and some on the complete other end of the spectrum! 

I'm curious as to what your experience has been. Are you're chickens a shining example of poultry intelligence, or are they the dimmest bulb in the box? Do they anticipate your movements, or know what the treat bucket looks like? How do you feel about chickens being as smart as a 4 year old?

~L 
                                                                          

7 comments:

  1. I have had 16 chickens. 2 of which were dumber than a box of rocks, (we still love them) and the rest smart. Come when called and even jump up on our arms or shoulders!!

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    1. That makes it really easy to catch them! lol They sound wonderful.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Lisa

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  2. I feel my 8 hens are very smart. I sit out with them during the evening and you are correct, when I get up and go inside they are all in a row waiting cause they know the treat if coming back out that door. My girls always come when I call. I get so much enjoyment from my hens. This city girl is enjoying learning about chickens and gardening.

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    1. Your hens sound wonderful! I love how excited they get when they see the treats coming, don't you?

      Lisa

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  3. Thanks for linking up at #overthemoon and I hope you have a lovely day. I love the photos of your hens.

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  4. My chickens have surprised me with how intelligent they are. Although, there are times when they are just plain stupid. Like when I feed the chickens, and one of them is on the wrong side of the fence. They will pace back and forth, instead of going around the the gate, to get to the food. Visiting from the Simple Homestead Blog Hop!

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    1. Ha ha ha...I have had them do that too!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Lisa

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