Before I get into my little story, which proved to me beyond doubt how chickens can learn from a single experience and remember it for years, I would like to quickly outline some other observations and opinions I have about them.
Also, at the end of this post are two videos: the first one is by yours truly and is directly related to this story; the second video is a commercial by Animals Australia and uses humour to get their point across – I like it!
Personally, I have never been comfortable with the thought of my eggs coming from a chicken confined to a small cage her whole life. Nevertheless, I’m sure I have eaten my fair share of battery hen eggs in my time and anyone who has eaten a takeaway burger or breakfast in a hotel probably has also. So, as much as I would like to claim the moral high ground on the humane treatment of chickens I fear that I too have inadvertently contributed to the miserable lives of many birds.
Humans are powerful – we are powerful – and we’re so dominant on this earth that we don’t even have to be a smart or highly intelligent human to reign power and rule over other beings. Humanity has tamed (controlled) the beasts on the land and slaughtered the giants in the seas – we are mortal Gods with the supremacy to kill, control, and save at will.
Therefore, if even the dumbest among us can wield such power without a conscience then what chance do animals have if the more intelligent humans have no compassion either and choose economic excess over fair treatment of animals?
Animals don’t just exist to eat, reproduce, and die – contrary to popular belief. Far from it! Animals feel fear, pain, sadness, and happiness; they like to relax, play, interact, be sociable, and feel wanted. Some people understand this but it’s unfortunately limited to the family pet and these same people will bend over backwards to ensure their dog or cat has first class treatment yet not spare any thought for a poor (just as intelligent) hen sitting in a small cage with nothing but pelletised feed and a steel floor to perch.
Some of us would rather not know where our food comes from… We don’t know, we don’t ask, we don’t then feel the guilt. It’s these attitudes that fuelled the explosion in animal exploitation in the early days because social accountability was missing and this left the door open for the unscrupulous to push the boundaries all on account of profit.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t control domestic animals, the chicken for instance would not survive if it wasn’t for humans, so we are co-dependant that’s true. However, we should not exploit this dependency and take it as an opportunity to enslave domestic livestock in appalling conditions just for our own greedy gains.
Now to the story…
Every morning, I wonder down to my chicken pen and let the girls (and one guy – rooster) out into their free-ranging area. As soon as they see me walking down the hill towards the pen all the birds gather at the front door to wait in anticipation for me to open it. If I go outside and neglect to immediately make my way down to the pen, our rooster will crow and continue to crow until I go down and let them out – he must know how much his noisy crowing annoys me.
About 2 years ago, I took my regular morning walk down to my chicken pen to let the birds out. The pen door is a large 7 foot tall hand-made hardwood frame structure with chicken wire in the centre. When I opened the door, all the birds rushed out as usual into the free-ranging area – the last hen (an Australorp cross) balked at the door because she had seen something in the space of the door frame… It was a large Huntsman spider (a popular species of spider in Australia which can grow as big as a child’s hand).
The spider was well aware he had been spotted and was trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible by backing into the crack; however, the hen had his measure and with one swift peck she had the spider by the top of his body and preceded to hit him against the wooden door frame until it was surely dead.
Once the unlucky spider was rendered limp, the hen gobbled him up contently and before she left to go and free-range with her friends she took one last look around the door frame just to check there were no other free plump spider snacks to grab.
And, all this happened without the slightest knowledge of any of her feathered friends – they were all happily grazing out in the paddock… I was stunned! Not by a hen eating a spider because I’ve seen that heaps of times but I hate spiders! They give me the heebie jeebies and I vowed I would never open the door again without first checking there wasn’t some big hairy arachnid hanging around the latch!
But the biggest surprise was to come… It seems I wasn’t the only one who would remember this experience… She did too…
For the next two years and still to this very day the same hen will check the gap in the door frame to see if there is a spider hanging about – true story. No matter if she is last in the flock or the first bird let out, she will stop, prop, and look around that door frame in the off chance she could get lucky again.
This behaviour shows incredible intelligence and memory recall and it means chickens not only can learn from a single experience but they also have expectations and hope. I see many other examples which prove chickens are smart and caring.
Here’s one last example, I have a clumping native grass throughout my property which produces an edible berry; unfortunately, the berry clump at the end of the stalk is covered in long thorns and the hens are unable to reach the fruit. Our rooster has a longer beak and has worked out a way to carefully pluck the berries from the thorny head but he doesn't eat them, rather, he throws them on the ground for the hens to eat – it’s amazing to watch! To me, this behaviour demonstrates sharing and intelligence.
According to expert studies on chickens, a hen can remember up to 100 other birds and know exactly where they sit in the pecking order! Chickens communicate with each other (and with humans) all the time.
For me, what makes the mistreatment of hens, such as battery hen farming, even sadder is the fact that the birds understand life should be better and probably despair at what could be…
The good news is the appetite for battery farmed eggs is diminishing slowly each year and whilst there is some way to go before caged hens are no more, it will happen. Simply buying trusted free-range eggs instead of the cheaper caged variety is a big statement to make and I encourage everyone to do it.
Hens are not egg laying machines, they are smart beings deserving of our full respect, hell, some are even braver then I am… For a start, you wouldn’t find me anywhere near a Huntsman spider!
Animals Australia video – http://www.animalsaustralia.org/no-way-to-treat-a-lady
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes…