Ten reasons why chickens are amazing | BC SPCA
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Ten reasons why chickens are amazing

March 11, 2019

We hand-“pecked” ten fun facts explaining why we think chickens are amazing and we are egg-cited to share them with you!

1.)  Today’s modern chickens were domesticated around 8,000 years ago. They evolved from the red jungle fowl, known scientifically as Gallus gallus. These chicken ancestors lived in the jungle, as their name suggests.

2.)  Chickens perch in high places to watch for predators and alert their flock mates of any dangers they see. Their feet are specially designed for perching, with three forward facing toes and one toe pointing backward. This allows them to grip onto branches and other perching objects. At night, chickens perch up high to sleep. This is called roosting.

3.)  Chickens have a system in which some are the boss of others. It’s called a pecking order because the bigger, stronger, and more aggressive chickens bully their way to the top of the flock by pecking their flock mates. If there is an adult rooster present in the flock, he is usually the boss chicken. Chickens higher in the pecking order get access to the best things in the poultry house first and whenever they want them (e.g. feed, water, perches, nests). Chickens lower in the pecking order have to get out of the way and wait their turn when a boss chicken approaches if they want to avoid being pecked. Boss chickens also have the job of keeping watch for predators and finding the best food sources for the flock to eat.

4.)  Chickens can recognize and remember about 100 other chickens!

Photo credit: Rabbit River Farms

5.)  The Ayam Cemani is a rare breed of chicken from Indonesia. What makes it incredibly unique is that it is completely black, both inside and out. Its black feathers have a beautiful metallic sheen. Its beak, eyes, comb (flesh on top of its head) and wattle (the fleshy bit dangling under its beak) are all black. It even has black bones and organs!

6.)  Chickens clean themselves by dustbathing. To do this, the chicken will scratch the ground to make a shallow hole in the dirt or bedding. Then she crouches down into the hole and vigorously kicks the dust up with her feet to cover herself. It sticks to the stale oil in her feathers. Next she stands up and shakes the dust off, effectively shaking the old oil off as well. Finally, she distributes fresh oil from a gland near her tail throughout her feathers – a behaviour called preening. Chickens like to dustbathe together daily to keep their feathers waterproofed, conditioned and in a neat order. It also helps repel parasites and keep their skin healthy.

In the following video, Dr. Ian Duncan, a world-renowned poultry behaviour and welfare expert, discusses perching and dust bathing behaviours and pecking orders.

7.)  Modern breeds of egg-laying hens are good at laying a lot of eggs. A hen can lay about 320 eggs per year at her highest production. This number decreases over time as the hen ages.

8.)  Hens really do like to lay their eggs in a nest. A hen will start to look for a nest about 60-90 minutes before she is ready to lay her egg. If a nest is unavailable, she may become stressed and decide to hold her egg inside her body a little longer. You can tell if an egg was laid by a stressed hen by looking closely at it.

Photo credit: Alison Burrell

9.)  Free run eggs are from cage-free laying hens housed indoors. Free range eggs are from cage-free laying hens who have access to the outdoors. Cage-free chickens walk about three kilometres a day!

10.)  A chicken’s natural lifespan is about five to 11 years, but their life is much shorter on a farm. Laying hens grow slowly and don’t start laying eggs until they are about four or five months old, so they are usually kept for one to two years. The birds raised for meat production, called broiler chickens, grow incredibly fast and are not needed for egg production, so they are only kept for about six to eight weeks.

Keep reading to discover our bonus egg facts!

Bonus – Three cool egg facts!

1.)  Egg shell colour depends on the breed of the hen, but it’s not her feather colour that tells you what colour the egg shell will be. It’s the little pieces of flesh right near her ears – her earlobes! Generally, hens with red earlobes lay brown eggs and hens with white earlobes lay white eggs. That said, there are of course a few exceptions to this rule.

2.)  Egg yolk colour is determined by what the hen eats. Feeding corn and alfalfa-based diets to hens leads to a yellowy-orange yolk. Wheat-based feeds produce a pale yellow yolk. Feeding cottonseed meal produces green yolks, popular in the world of Dr. Seuss!

3.)  Although an egg shell looks solid, it is actually full of little holes called pores. The pores let oxygen, carbon dioxide and water cycle through the egg shell, allowing an unhatched chick to breathe. There are as many as 8,000 microscopic pores in an eggshell. The shell is also the source of calcium for a baby bird’s development.

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