If you watch a rooster or a lead hen when all are headed for the perches at dusk, you will notice they have a keen sense of mathematics, they literally know if there is a flock member missing or lagging behind the rest and will wait until all are safely in the coop for the night. A rooster may even look for a missing flock member if they do not appear in a reasonable length of time.
We have watched flock members actually stand over another flock member that has been injured or has expired and will not allow us to get near, as they feel a sense of duty to protect that inactive member. One of the roosters lost his favorite mate and literally would not leave her side and would not allow anyone to approach her. We have watched other flock members literally mourn over the loss of their bff, and refuse to eat, interact or leave the perch for days on end, showing they are capable of emotion and empathy.
Chickens can be trained, either using food or a bell to learn certain skills including some obstacle courses, or in color recognition. Notice some time if a stranger approaches as to what color they may wear. A chicken not only reacts because it's a stranger, but also reacts to the color they are wearing. Each member may react to a different color, and set up a fuss, or go into defense mode as that stranger continues to move toward them.
Chickens can recognize sizes and shapes and react accordingly, so paired with color, you may notice that even if someone approaches them wearing the same color you might wear, that the bulk or size of that person will set them into an alert mode.
When observing your flock make note of certain sounds they make. There is a different sound depending on whether there is a disturbance from the sky or on the ground, they are capable of communicating over 30 different sounds that include different types of predator alerts.
Watch a mama hen when her babies approach danger, or when they peck at something that she deems unsafe for them to consume. She will quietly warn them and if they do not heed the warning she may gently peck at their head to get their attention. If there's a stubborn chick, she may actually put that chick on time out. We've seen mama hens that actually send a chick to face a corner until it can behave properly. This obviously shows that chickens are capable of learning proper behavior, much as you might teach your own child.
Chickens are being used more and more in emotional and elder therapy. There are Veteran programs, Elder Programs and Youth programs all geared around interaction with chickens as therapy animals. Each of these programs has been met with very positive and rewarding results. Alzheimer patients and those with dementia have actually shown signs of improvement because even from a young age those patients could relate to chickens or may have lived on farms and the chickens spur those positive memories. In veteran programs, chickens have given the emotionally and physically wounded veteran's purpose and normalcy in readjusting to civilian life. Autistic children, even those with very complex disorders have benefitted from having chickens in their life. Many Autistic children find it difficult to touch or be touched, however with chickens, that gesture becomes voluntary and at the pace the child is comfortable with. We have had the personal opportunity to observe children with these developmental disorders that have blossomed when chickens became a part of their daily lives. We've also noticed that chickens respond to children in different ways than they do adults. Some children are able to approach even our free rangers, pick them up and carry them around, while those same chickens will avoid and skirt around the adults.
Chickens are curious critters, and they can differentiate their owners from anyone else that may come onto the property. Very little will get past a chicken, even if you think they are not looking, they are constantly aware of their surroundings and of activity near their surroundings. Our Icelandic chickens are a very good example of this behavior. They are always observing, but as soon as you look their way, they will pretend they are not watching and resume pecking or scratching at the ground. If you look away, they will again be found observing your actions and behavior.
Chickens have a social order, not unlike humans or other animals that live within a community. As with humans you find introverts and extroverts, you find bullies and you find those that are everyone's friend, this is very apparent within an established flock of chickens. Again, we point out the Icelandic chickens in this social behavior as they tend to raise chicks as a community; the aunts, uncles and cousins all care for those chicks and protect them. If one member of the flock gets out of hand they are disciplined by other flock members.
There is ongoing research of Chickens, and we have been approached by Agriculture University research program coordinators to provide many dozens of heritage leghorn eggs for their programs as they most commonly use the leghorn chickens in test programs for multiple purposes, whether that is to determine intelligence, social behavior, or whether that is to find ways to determine the sex of a chick before it is hatched or ways to help the poultry industry improve the health and welfare of their flocks. One of the main reasons that breed is used in research is because they mature early, so the researchers are able to work with the chickens within their time constrictions and grant funded programs.
Though chickens seem to continue as the stereo-typical, *bird brain*; nothing could be farther from the truth. Simple observation, proves they are far more intelligent than often credited for.
You might consider suggesting to your local nursing home or assisted living directors to include chickens in their programs. There's a lot of data available for initiating these projects. If you know of a military veteran that qualifies for the coops for troops program you can submit their name for consideration. And if you know someone with an autistic child, or an adult with autism, you might suggest chickens as useful therapy. We hear all the time how relaxing it is for those in high stress jobs to sit with their chickens at the end of the day to wind down. So never underestimate the intelligence or power of a chicken.
Coops For Troops is one organization that is doing great work in providing chickens, coops and the needs of qualified Veteran's. www.fadedjeans.tv/coops-for-troops-1.html
Henpower, is another organization in the UK that believes in the healing power of chickens. Their videos show elderly people interacting and truly involved in caring for the chickens. www.programsforelderly.com/social-henpower-initiative-equal-arts.php
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