Are Chickens Really Stupid?

Rosie (L) Honda (R) Swiifer (Back)

I never thought too much about chickens before I started into the hobby of raising a few hens in my backyard a couple of years ago.  In fact, if you had asked me to describe a chicken before that time, I would have said that they were dirty, noisy and down-right stupid.   But, could you blame me?  That was what I learned as a child.

As a kid, I heard about Henny- Penny who was a paranoid chicken with delusional thoughts that “the sky was falling”.  I also recall the not remotely funny joke about the chicken crossing the road and the lunch bag let down punch line that had  no punch at all. Even my sister’s “knock- knock” jokes got better laughs than that tired chestnut!

As I grew older, I learned the hard way that a game called “chicken” had to do with my brother throwing his scout knife at my spread bare feet with the goal of making me flinch and be labeled a “chicken” for the rest of the day by our street hockey gang of kids.   Later on, I heard sayings like “running around like a chicken with your head cut off”,  “scarce as hen’s teeth” and “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”.  Even Fonzie, on Happy Days taught me that pretty girls were called “chicks” and I discovered that my friend, Giancarlo,  had an overprotective mom that my Dad referred to as a “Mother Hen”.  The list can go on and on, but has ANYONE ever taken the time to REALLY examine the exceptional qualities of the poor old chicken???????

Now, those of us who have gotten to know a chicken or two understand that these birds are anything but stupid.  They live in a social hierarchy where everyone knows their place.  Order is generally  the norm of the day and those that decide to step out of line are generally consequenced.   Now…that’s not a bad thing ….is it?

Chickens also look out for the welfare of the entire flock.  No better example of this is when a rooster or dominant hen will vocally   alert the entire flock of  impending danger.  In the chicken world, it’s never “every man/woman for themselves”.  If that was the case,  than the chicken would just run for cover and forget about the rest.  Instead, a rooster will make the call of alarm to alert his ladies of the danger and then stand his ground to take-on or sacrifice himself to the impending danger for his flock.    Hey…… that’s a novel idea….looking out for your fellow-man!

As for memory, they have incredible capacity, given that their brain is the size of a cashew nut.  They can come when called (provided that food is offered), they have the ability to distinguish between strangers and owners (they act pretty “chicken” if they don’t know you), they know when to return to the coop at night  and understand what bugs and greens are safe to eat. I’ve seen many a dog who couldn’t get a passing grade on some of these “brain teasers”. I recall many nights that our Lab dove into the garbage buffet, only to hurl it all back up  an hour later.(My apologies if you are reading this post at Breakfast!)

But, the greatest feat of all…………is that the chicken creates delicious eggs!  Have you ever stopped to think about this astounding feat?  I’m not aware of any other creature in the world that can produce a 2 oz. (or more) egg almost EVERY SINGE DAY.   It doesn’t matter if it’s 85 degrees in August or well below freezing in January, my hens continue to lay.  And, to make it even more impressive, these birds have managed to wrap this delicious offering in a strong calcium package which preserves this tasty treat for weeks!

From a nutritional perspective, the chicken egg contains  all essential amino acids for humans and an extensive list of vitamins and minerals as well! Because of this, nutrition scientists have given the egg the esteemed title as the best food in the entire world for complete proteins.   But what’s most impressive is that this egg equates to around 3% of a chicken’s body weight.  In other words, these “stupid” creatures manage to produce their ENTIRE body weight in eggs within 30 odd days and continue to do so for several years! Now…that’s truly incredible!

So, the next time that you tuck into those eggs for breakfast or crack a few in a bowl for baking or cooking, give thanks to the stupid chicken.  Maybe then, we’ll stop giving these incredible creatures the bum rap that they definitely don’t deserve and hold them in a higher regard.

4 days of work!


34 thoughts on “Are Chickens Really Stupid?

  1. Amen! I am amazed at how smart they are but unless you’ve got chickens and spend time with them, people just don’t realize. Mine recognize me when I come into the yard and start clucking and crowing for me to come over to the run. Which I always do by the way. My rooster always circles and backs up to me every morning to pick him up. I would say that’s pretty smart. I really enjoy them. Plus they produce the perfect food in its own container! All that said, I have a question for you. I have 5 hens. One is brooding right now. The others are not but they have almost stopped laying eggs. They are not molting. They are all under one year of age. Any thoughts or ideas why they are not laying? Enjoy your blog.

    • Hi Lyn,
      Thanks for your “testimonial”. The egg laying dilemma is a loaded question with LOTS of variables. First off, are they heritage breeds (they tend to take a break in the Winter). Second, is there any artificial light? (this helps to stimulate the gland for laying) Third, are they active, any sneezing, nose discharge, fluffing up and resting alot? Fourth, are they getting a proper “laying feed” with the correct amount of protein?
      I hope this helps. Glad you enjoy the blog. Feel free to contact again.

      • Thanks for the info. I think the breed might be my answer. There is no artificial light, they seem to be as active as when they were laying, no sneezing or anything like that. They get proper feed with healthy treats in the afternoon. So maybe it’s the type chicken I have. How long do you think this might last? I love my fresh eggs. But if they need a break so be it. Thanks alot.

  2. Thanks for sharing on Freedom Fridays. Well done! But I do have to mention a rooster I once had who definitely fit into the “every man for himself” category. When the flock was threatened by a swooping hawk, Meatball was the first to flee. I saw him run towards the garage, but couldn’t find him for the longest time. Eventually I noticed him huddled in the corner of the brooder box where he had spent the first few weeks of his life. Ironically, he was the dominant of my 2 roos. It was the subordinate one who tried to defend the hens, and located and escorted each of them, one by one back to the coop, once danger was well past. So there is a lot of variation in the chicken world, just as there is within the human species.

  3. I loved reading this post. I’ve had chickens for years and never knew some of these facts. I found you on Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.

  4. It had never occurred to me that a hen lays her body weight in eggs in a month’s time; how cool is that? I really enjoy my old hens, even though the two oldest (8 years old now) don’t lay anymore. Those two are just pets and entertainment. Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop; I hope you’ll join us again this Thursday.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

  5. I dunno. I appreciate chickens for what they provide, but when we had chickens, they were definitely stupid. They couldn’t tell the difference between headlights and daylight, so if we came down late in the evening after they’d all gone to roost, they’d literally all get up again as though it were morning.

    And when something attacked (How it managed, through brick walls and solid wood doors, is beyond me, but it somehow did), our roosters were finally found cowering under piles of trembling hens. (Why they didn’t roost THEN is ALSO beyond me.)

      • hehe Could be. I was wondering as I read your post if maybe certain breeds are smarter than others. But I think ours were pretty common: Rhode Island Reds and Auracanas, for the most part. Could be the water. 😉

        (I don’t know why this account uses my blog name instead of my actual name.)

  6. What’s really amazing is when you have a hen hatch and raise a clutch of chicks. Watch how much care a mother hen showers on her chicks, and how the tiny chicks respond to her, follow her around everywhere, and take naps under her feathers, and you’ll appreciate why chicks need a mother hen.

  7. They really are pretty clever. Chickens recognize the idea that just because they can no longer see an object, doesn’t mean it no longer exists…..just that it’s hidden! Even young human children haven’t quite made it that far up the cognitive ladder yet. They can learn their names, and can learn tricks as well. About the only stupid thing I’ve seen any of them do is step in poop…..but pretty much all animals do that at some point. At least chickens wipe off their feet (by scratching at the ground). Their vision is probably the most impressive thing about them (besides the eggs, of course). They see all of the same colors as us, plus some of the uv end of the spectrum! They also have a specialized type of cone for detecting movement, so their eyes are much more sensitive to movement that ours are. They have about 300° of vision, compared to our about 180° (most of which is peripheral and actually not very good). They can use their eyes individually or together, and switch between monocular and binocular vision, depending on what they want to do (without having to close an eye). And to top it all off…..much like our ears are soecialized for different types of sound, their eyes are specialized for different types of sight! One near sighted, one far sighted. On temperment….our rooster is more of a gentleman than some humans. Not only does he fight off predators to keep his ladies safe, but he gives up food for them. If he finds an awesome morsel, instead of eating it he calls the girls over to enjoy it. Pretty nice of him. There are even roosters who will sit on eggs and help with chicks! So the idea that roosters are all hyper-aggressive jerks is silly as well. Are some? Of course, but to them they’re just doing a better job at protecting the girls. It’s more hyper-vigilant than hyper-aggressive. They perceive more as a threat, so they attack more. Actually, it’s kind of impressive. We consider “chicken” to mean easily scared…..but a 10 pound rooster will butt heads with a large dog, human being, or even a bear without hesitation. All to protect his ladies. Can’t really hate on that. The girls are sweet and give natural multi-vitamins, are excellent mommas, are inquisitive, and are actually pretty intelligent…..the boys are tough, brave, curious, alsompretty intelligent, and can range from sweet and affectionate to intensely protective. Legitimately dumb animals don’t have much in the way of personalities.

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