Behavioral research



Behavioral research
For the chickens the course of the day is fairly fixed.
One of the most important things in the life of a chicken is eating. Unfortunately the majority of the food does not consist of natural food but of the grains people feed. Before pecking up a grain the chicken lifts its head so that it can see the grain with both eyes. Now it fixes the position of the grain and after aiming at it is able to hit it. If it fails pecking up the grain it has to lift the head again and to aim at it once more. The chicken’s senses of smelling and tasting are not very much developed. Much more important is their sense of touch.
After swallowing the food it gets into the crop, a natural container for food. The chicken’s decision to peck up a grain depends on its size. That’s because the chicken has a natural sense of how large grains should be. Only experience, curiosity, hunger, or the example of another chicken can make one chicken eat a bigger grain. With this new experience they even prefer eating bigger grains first, probably to feel full earlier.

The pineal body regulates the chicken’s body temperature and the sentiment of temperature in the environment. Their body temperature is between 39.8 °C and 43.6 °C. At 4 o’ clock p.m. the temperature is on its highest level, at midnight on its lowest. Chickens tolerate sharp coldness better than temperatures over 28 °C, because chickens have no perspiratory gland. So they open their beak all the time and lift their wings a bit to feel fresher.
When the weather is hot they dive their beak into cold, fresh water to cool the blood in the carotid artery. For drinking they dive their beak deep into the water, then they quickly lift their head so that the water can run down the throat.
Chickens usually prefer to do this together and with the same rhythm. The eye of a wild living chicken is focused for a view of five meters to see grains and other small things and for a view of 50 meters to see larger things. That's why chickens do not like to go away from their hen house farther than 50 meters.
To watch an object the chicken always has to use the left and the right eye alternately. That is why the typical walk of chickens developed which makes it possible for them to keep their balance. In bright light chickens can see different colors very well, but in darkness they are almost blind. Chickens avoid open meadows and prefer the undergrowth where they are safer. In dangerous situations it is amazing how chickens are suddenly able to fly. Bantams even fly over 30 meters high houses. For the night chickens look for a higher place to sleep, usually the perch in their hen house.

One peculiarity of poultry is that they have organs for perceiving vibrations. These are located predominantly on the legs, but also on the skin. They feel vibrations of the ground and in the atmosphere, which help them to recognize enemies very quickly. You can notice it if you quietly approach your hen house in the darkness. Immediately you can hear the warning voice of the rooster. Since chickens are able to express over 30 different sounds, they also have a very good sense of hearing. This can be observed already with the communication between hen and chick, about 24 hours before hatching out. The chick chirps with long, high sounds and the hen answers with a deep, soft voice. Hen and chick can still understand each other at a distance of 20 meters, and the chicken chirps when it gets lost. At this distance chicks are able to recognize their mother’s voice out of a lot of other sounds. When there is food for the chicks or they are allowed to slip under their mother’s feathers, they chirp quite softly because they feel good. The chicks also communicate with each other. But they don't react if any of their brothers and sisters gets lost.
The mother lures her chicks to the food with special sounds. When the chicks are about 3 – 4 months old the young roosters start to imitate the adults and the young hens try to cackle like hens after having laid an egg. Young roosters without a mother start to crow much later than roosters with a mother, because they are more frightened of the older chickens. Adult roosters basically crow at 9 o’ clock a.m. to demonstrate their power. Light breeds usually have a high voice; heavy breeds a very deep one.
Besides crowing, roosters have a lot of other sounds. There are for example different warning sounds for an enemy from the air like a big bird and from the ground like a dog. Just like a hen lures her chicks a rooster lures his hens for the food. Throughout the whole day he also makes other sounds which mean for the hens to follow him.
The hens cackle excitedly when they have laid an egg. Perhaps they cackle to keep contact to the other chickens, because a rooster immediately comes into the hen house as soon as a hen starts to cackle there. Sometimes he even flies onto the nest and shows her the way down.
Then he takes her back to the other hens. But cackling after laying an egg can also make another sense, namely that hens are proud of the thing they produced and that they want to show it to the other hens. Weaker hens usually cackle less than stronger ones, because they don't want to get trouble with the other, stronger hens. Sometimes the rooster shows the nest to the hen, by luring her. But sometimes there seem to be difficulties in understanding if a rooster excitedly tries to show a nest while no hen is around. The reason for this might simply be that he wants to boast. The same often happens when I bring food to my chickens. All the hens are already eating and my rooster is the last to arrive. At once he starts to show the hens the food. As if they would not see it...

If hens feel good they utter soft, singing sounds. It is interesting that our domestic chickens have more sounds available than do the wild living chickens. Besides all those amazing pastimes I wrote about, chickens also find a time to retire a bit. After a highly active period in the morning a time of comfort follows. The chickens sit under a bush and clean their feathers.

Therefore it must be absolute peace and quietness and they grease their feathers against wetness with grease secreted from the rump.
In the afternoon chickens enjoy relaxing in the sun and cleaning their feathers in the dust. Roosters usually avoid cleaning their feathers in the dust because they are too proud and they also have to take care for their flocks.

A second rush-time begins at 5 o’ clock p.m. The chickens are getting pretty hungry and prefer especially filling food like corn. Sexual activity of the rooster is on its highest level of the day, too.
Chickens only fall asleep in their familiar group. In strange or precarious places they cannot fall asleep. They sit together on their perch at short distances, and the pecking order doesn't mean a thing. Only if there are different perches or if one part of a perch is more comfortable, the rooster with the strongest hens decides to sit there. Weaker hens often go into the hen house earlier to reserve a better place on the perch, but when the stronger ones arrive they usually bite them, and the weaker ones have to leave.
Only in absolute darkness they put their heads under the feathers and fall asleep with their eyes closed.
But this is hard to see, because they wake up from sleep with every sound you make. However, they calm down pretty quickly again because of the darkness, and soon they fall asleep again.
There is a special, important pecking order in the chicken herd. It determines which chicken may eat first, where which chicken is allowed to sit on the perch and other things. You can often see that one chicken pecks another one without any obvious reason, just to show that it is stronger.
The most pecking takes place on the perch, but only if there are rank differences, as mentioned. The other ones peck especially strange or young chickens and so it can take 15 minutes until everybody has found a place.

Usually the rooster is the strongest member of the herd and has the highest rank in the pecking order. The pecking order changes very seldom because weaker chickens are usually so afraid of stronger ones that they never have the courage to attack them. This applies also to young roosters: Physically they would be much stronger than older hens; however, they do not dare to attack older hens because of their youth experiences.
Pretty late a young rooster has the courage to “rape” a hen and she accepts his new position.
Usually chickens don’t care about the race of other chickens. But on my own hen yard observed something different: I had 6 brown Leghorns and a little rooster and two hens which were of mixed racial origin. The two smaller hens of the same origin always were the favorites of the rooster and all the day he walked together with them, although the Leghorns weren’t to tall for him. He just didn’t like the Leghorns. After 5 months, when his two daughters were grown up, he immediately preferred them and spent most of the time closely together with them in the garden. So he recognized his own kindred and preferred to have contact with them rather than with other races. So there even is racism among chickens.


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