Sentience in Farm Animals:

Poultry
 

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Sentience in Farm Animals main introduction
Sentience in: Cattle Aquatic Animals Pigs Sheep

Related links: Animal Rights: Poultry

Birds in general are thought to lack sentience and intelligence however poultry it seems are considered even more so in this respect and chickens in particular are consider to be stupid, timid lacking courage. Often such misconceptions are due to our lack of connection with these creatures, unlike a cat or a dog or even your pet budgie few of us have any real contact with poultry.

If however we get close to these animals and see them with an open mind without the prejudice of upbringing and cultural bias based mostly on ignorance, or deliberate misrepresentation by the poultry industry or perhaps simply lack of thinking on our behalf, we may see the real being, a being who is entirely aware, who experiences a whole range of sensitivities and emotions, in short a being who is sentient, conscious of himself, others and his environment.

There is much anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the idea that poultry are sentient and indeed intelligent, with individual personalities, emotions, and the capacity of feeling pain both physical and psychological.

Of all the convincing evidence of animal sentience the most obvious indication is the fact that animals are capable of suffering and experience pain; there is no denying that animals feel pain and poultry are no exception. Pain is an indicator of sentience, pain is only felt by a being with the capacity feel it and to react to painful stimuli, and tests show that indeed poultry do experience pain and respond accordingly.

But sentience in poultry is manifest in other aspects, such as emotion, compassion, self awareness, intelligence, ingenuity, social interaction and so on as you will read by clicking the links further down to separate web pages with information concerning each species.

Most of us who are interested in Animals are no doubt familiar with the recent research into the intelligence of New Caledonian crows and the experiments that show that the New Caledonian crow is able to use tools. These crows have been observed to extract pry by the use of hooked shaped sticks and similar materials as tools. They also know which trees produces twigs which are suitable for this purpose, which have the correct natural shape to be adapted as a tool. With dexterity the crow uses the tool to a degree of adeptness far above that of other animals who use tools such as for instance chimpanzees who use rocks to crack open nuts. The New Caledonian crows rely on these tools to obtain food, they carry their tools with them as they move from place to place! The crows in fact use a variety of very complex tools which they themselves construct.

"BETTY AND ABEL are two smart birds. Put a morsel of food just out of their reach and these New Caledonian crows will fish for it with a tool. And not just any tool. Given a choice, they'll pick the best one for the job. Smarter still, if they can't find the right tool, they'll make one.

These two crows are in their third year at Oxford University, but they haven't been taking an advanced course in toolmaking. Neither has received any training - their talent comes naturally and their wild relatives are equally skilled. When it comes to making tools, New Caledonian crows are experts. They show a keener understanding of form and function than even chimps. "They've reached levels of toolmaking proficiency generally associated with an animal with a big brain, dextrous hands and symbolic language - in other words humans," says Gavin Hunt, a biologist at the University of Auckland."

The simplest tool is a stick for poking about in cracks and crevices where insects and other small prey hide. Crows could just pick up sticks from the forest floor, but often they make their own. Hunt has found probes fashioned from a variety of materials: the central rib of a large leaf, a bamboo stem or a fern runner, even a sliver from the woody midrib of a palm frond. Crows wield these in different ways depending on their length and the job in hand. "They adjust their grip depending on whether precision or brute force is needed," says Jackie Chappell, a member of Kacelnik's team at Oxford.

Finish reading this fascinating article from the website of the New Scientist magazine:

Look, no hands! - life - 17 August 2002 - New Scientist

Consider that the same feats or similar may likely be possible with other birds including poultry, the reason we have not as yet had any scientific support to such an idea may simply be because similar experiments have not been carried out on poultry or simply because of the conditions in which these animals are kept: in factory farms such behaviours would not be possible and if they where they would most likely not be observed. In such environments the abilities of these creatures have never been observed and also the potential of any animal is of course impeded by the conditions in which they are closely confined. 

Crows it seems also experience pleasure. In his book Pleasurable Kingdom Jonathan Balcombe describes two crows he observed grooming one another after a coordinated display of "aerial antics with one bird watching the other.

Than one bird sidled up to the other, leaned over and pointed her beak down, exposing her nap. The other bird gently swept his bill through her nap feathers as though searching for parasites. After a few seconds the two edged apart again. Shortly the one bird sidled back towards the other, and the grooming resumed. This process was repeated 30 times over the next ten minutes. The groomed bird especially appeared to like it.

Male and female crows look the same to us, so I don't actually know if these where a mated pair or not. But whatever thier
sexes, thier interaction appeared to embody the the pleasure of contact.

Are such behaviours possible in poultry, poultry are of course birds who once lived wild just like crows, obvious I know but sadly these creatures have for so long been considered only as food that people often do not associate them with other birds. For instance, it is commonly thought that turkeys do not fly, and their struggles to do so are often cited as indication that they are too dumb to know they cannot fly. An erroneous misconception one of many that people have about poultry. Turkeys cannot fly because they have been selectively breed and fed with antibiotics and growth hormones to weigh twice as much as their natural counterparts. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of 25 miles an hour.

Like crows, poultry: ducks turkeys chickens and geese, are intelligent, emotional and far more clever than we give them credit for.

To read more about sentience in each species of poultry click: 

Ducks Turkeys chickens Geese  

References and Links :

Crows make monkeys out of chimps in mental test - life - 17 September 2008 - N

Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals - life - 22 May 2008 - New Sc

United Poultry Concerns [UPC] - www.upc-online.org2