Sentience in Farm Animals:




About think Differently About Sheep

Sentient Sheep

Sheep in religion and mythology

Sheep in Art

Sheep Breeds

Help Our Sheep


Animal Rights

Factory Farming

Animal Rights and Why they Matter

Sentience in Farm Animals

Farm Animal Facts

Why Animals matter:
A Religious and Philosophical perspective

Vegan Rambles

Photograph Gallery


Animals in art

Art Gallery

Clip art


Graphic Quotations

Portrait Gallery: Animals do Not all Look the Same


Useful Links: Action You Can Take


A Memorial to Sooty

A Memorial to Joey

A Memorial To Patch


Sentience in Farm Animals main introduction

Sentience in Poultry: main introduction

Chickens, whether intelligent or stupid, individual or identical, are sentient beings. They feel pain and experience fear. This, in itself, is enough to make it wrong to cause them pain and suffering.” 

Jennifer Raymond.

Interesting Facts About Chickens

A chickens' heart beats at an amazing 280-315 beats a minute.

Chickens have more than 30 different calls, and chicks start communicating with their mother while they are still inside the egg

Chickens forage by scratching with their claws and pecking with their beaks more than 10,000 times in a single day.

Chickens are the closest living relative of the tyrannosaurus rex.

Chickens sadly are perhaps the most maligned of all poultry when it comes to accepting them as sentient. We are all familiar with the many derogatory remarks concerning chickens, the most common of which is the reference to a coward as "chicken". This term is in any case an inaccuracy; in the wild a mother hen will defend her young with brave aggression towards other birds and other animals, even other hens who approach her nest. A chicken will fight with such formidable creatures as foxes and eagles to protect her offspring.

Behind the myth of stupidity and cowardice we find a creature of intelligence, capable of emotion, deception, complex communication and compassion.

Of all farm animals it is chickens and other poultry who have the hardest time getting people to accept that they too are aware, conscious, thinking, feeling beings.

There is more to chickens than meets the eye. Lets look closely at what really makes a chicken a chicken.

In the wild chicken's lives are far more complex and different than we can imagine so used to associating them as confined in farms or vacuumed packed in the supermarket. Most people have never seen a live chicken. The average person knows very little about chickens, neither their natural behaviours nor their way of life; there are no documentaries about chickens in the wild as there are concerning; monkeys, elephants or foxes for example. Few it seems are interested in these creatures and see them as little more than egg and meat producing machines. There are many people who claim to be vegetarian yet will continue to include chicken, other poultry and fish in their diets. These people are not really vegetarian and sadly seem to separate chicken and fish from other animals and this is most likely due to the misconception that poultry are not sentient, or that they are not animals. I am sure you have heard some tell you that they do not eat meat, than go on to tell you that they eat chicken and fish!

Buy why do people get so confused, a chicken is an animal as much as a cow or a sheep, but somehow people see them differently as though they lack something and are in some way different from the rest. Sometimes this is due to confusion over what constitutes an animal, for an explanation of what is an animal: Think Differently Go Vegetarian/Vegan. At other times it is because people do not understand the true nature of chickens as sentient creatures who in some areas of intellect are more advanced than your cat or dog or even your young children. It is only when such people realise that chickens and other poultry are animals that they then become vegetarians and eventually vegans in the real sense of the word.

In the wild chickens are social animals enjoying one another's company in small flocks of up to thirty birds. Chickens may all seem the same to us - although as you get to know them thier individuality shines through - but chickens can recognise the faces of other individuals and prefer the company of those that they know and tend to avoid chickens they do not know. So the erroneous common misconception that all chickens are alike could not be further from the truth, they are like all animals - separate and unique individuals with their own personalities and identities and ways of expressing themselves.

“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is travelling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.”

“Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist. This is beyond the capacity of small children.”

Dr. Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia.

The above quotation appears on Free's website where you will find more information about Chickens
The Natural Lives of Chickens //

Like cows, wolves, and other herd or pack animals and indeed most other animals, as few species live in isolation, chickens establish social hierarchies. Hence the term "pecking order" derived no doubt from the behaviour of poultry in this regard. They spend their days sunning themselves, scratching about for food, and most enjoyable to chickens is taking dust baths which they take to cleanse their feathers. If you have ever seen a chicken take a dust bath there can be know doubt in your mind that they enjoy this immensely, the experience of pleasure requires a sentient being to experience such an emotion.  

Chickens in their respective groups co-ordinate these activities so that they all participate in them together. A hen is very maternal; tenderly caring for her young she shelters them under her wings and aggressively fends off would-be predators or other perceived threats. The rooster is involved in the egg laying rituals performed by hens which is an important part of a chicken's life. He also watches over the flock alerting the mother and her chicks to any danger. He calls them excitedly whenever he finds a tasty snack which he shares with the family. 

He can though be very devious as you will see later on.

Hens like all birds build nests to house and protect their young. In the wild she follows a precise and complex method of constructing her nest. Chickens build their nests on the ground by scratching out a shallow indentation in the soil, from here she will reach out to pick leaves and twigs which she places on her back. Thus laden with her nest building materials and after setting back into her nest hole she lets the material fall off her back forming a rim. She continues in this manner until her nest reaches her requirements.

Chickens have sensitive beaks which they use to forage for food
(along with their claws), to explore thier surroundings and to pick things up.

Chickens like other birds and poultry do not make mindless squawks, squeaks, chirps or other indecipherable calls, at least  indecipherable to our dull ears. Quite the contrary, in fact chickens have between 25 to thirty different calls, at least that is about as many that we are able to distinguish and it is very likely that there are many more which are not perceived by us. For example mother hens communicate with thier chicks while they are still incubating inside the egg. The chick in turn reciprocates, making sounds to which the mother reacts. A day or so before hatching she can hear the type of squeaks which tells her that her eggs are about to hatch. There are in fact numerous different calls that are used to communicate a whole range of information important to a chicken's way of life, even thier survival, among the many calls there are calls to exchange information, such as warning cries, and calls to indicate their emotions. Here are some examples: Cockerels crow to publicize their territorial boundaries and assess other males. Other calls that have been identified are nesting calls, laying, mating, distress, fear, threat and alarm calls, submissive and contentment calls, food calls, and warning calls. Also types of calls which have been identified include special and distinct calls indicating the presence or approach of aerial or ground predators. Such calls are immediately identified by other chickens who take appropriate action by standing up alert, crouching or taking cover. Cockerels are more vigilant in giving out alarm calls when there are hens nearby. Chickens also communicate in other ways for example by postures and visual displays. Also consider the idea put forward by William J, Long in his book, How Animals Talk, wherein he postulates that the haw call of a crow set to guard the flock have a number of different nuances imperceptible to us that may be compared to an ancient language. Refer to the section in Sentience In Farm Animals: Turkeys 

Sentience exists with or without intelligence, at least according to our perception of what it means to be intelligent. However do bear in mind that animals have their own kind of intelligence. But intelligence is a good indicator of sentience because intelligence cannot exist without sentience and looking at such enables us to understand animals far better. Following are examples of a chicken's intellectual abilities.

Research shows that Chickens are very discerning, chickens who are in pain will choose food laced with morphine, they have made the connection that this food is different from the other food and alleviates their pain. Mother hens when given a choice between toxic food and safe food invariably choose the safe food, they also teach their chicks to do likewise and to avoid the noxious food. In addition this behaviour on the part of chickens shows that they feel pain, as those chickens without pain did not of course choose the food containing morphine. Yes it is difficult to imagine, but there are people who think that chickens do not feel pain. A great misconception. Pain is the most obvious indication of sentience, it is experienced by animals with a brain and nervous system and this of course includes chickens. To experience pain a creature has to be aware: sentient.

From an Interview with Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor of Poultry Ethology
University of Guelph
Ontario, Canada

Q: Can chickens and turkeys feel pain?

A: Absolutely. It is indisputable that poultry are capable of feeling pain. All poultry species are sentient vertebrates and all the available evidence shows that they have a very similar range of feelings as mammalian species. Poultry can suffer by feeling pain, fear and stress.

Finish reading this extract which contains further information about intelligence in poultry including chickens:
Poultry Sentience and Intelligence

Concerning food, chickens it seems are very devious in its acquisition: they are willing to delay instant gratification if they think that by doing so a larger portion will eventually be offered. In research studies hens were tested by using coloured buttons, if the hens pecked on one of the coloured buttons they received food after three seconds. If they took the reward immediately they would receive no further food, however if they waited for a further twenty two seconds they would receive a much larger portion. The hens waited for the larger portion ninety percent of the time. This show that hens have the ability to not only live in the present but to anticipate the future and are capable of working out circumstances to their favour and of course this test demonstrates thier ability to observe and learn.

Below is an extraction on this subject: Chickens think About the Future. By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

"Chickens do not just live in the present, but can anticipate the future and demonstrate self-control, something previously attributed only to humans and other primates, according to a recent study.

The finding suggests that domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, are intelligent creatures that might worry.

Please read the article, Available on Discovery Channel News

Discovery Channel :: News :: Study: Chickens Think About Future

In other research the learning capabilities of chickens was demonstrated in tests where chickens where able to learn tasks such as opening doors and finding their way through mazes with speeds which are usually only expected of horses or dogs. Chickens like other farm animals have cognitive abilities that would astound those not familiar with these creatures. Experiments indicate that they can discriminate between different objects, people and events in their environment. In addition these studies in farm animal behaviour show that chickens form expectations of what may happen and work out how to deal with new or unexpected circumstances accordingly.  

Tests have shown us that hens like sheep, cattle and pigs can recognise individual humans. For example in one experiment chickens ignored the human who failed to offer them food, clearly recognising the one that did. From personal experience I know that Chickens can recognise people, even after the passing of several weeks. My husband occasionally when buying bread stops by and feeds some to chickens at a local allotment. These chickens recognise him as he approaches, their heads perk up alert with expectation as they rush to the fence long before they see the bread or other food that he brings them.

Like other farm animals chickens learn from one another as is the case already mentioned of hens teaching their chicks to avoid which of the two choices of food was tainted. It has been observed that mother hens show their offspring which is the right type of food for them to eat by what are called food displays, these demonstrations involve scratching and pecking. Also the mother hen shows concern when her chicks choose food which is unsuitable. Hens learn from observing other hens in their flock performing a task.

Chickens understand that when an object is taken away and hidden it continues to exist. Children do not understand this concept until at least eight months of age.

Birds who store food by burying not only show prodigious memories that rival our own . They also show object permanence - the awareness that objects continue to exist when they are no longer visible. Day Old chicks also demonstrate object permanence by remembering which of two opaque screens a familiar object was moved behind, than, when returned to the arenas three minutes later, going behind the correct screen to the object.

Jonathan Balcombe, Pleasurable Kingdoms

Tests demonstrate that Chickens have complex communication abilities and complex social behaviours.

Chickens are intelligent animals and good problem-solvers.  Australian scientists recently discovered that some hens emit high-pitched sounds to signal they have found food. The more they prefer a particular food, the faster they "speak."

"Chickens show sophisticated social behavior," Dr. Joy Mench, Professor and Director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California at Davis, "That's what a pecking order is all about. They can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them. They have more than thirty types of vocalizations." About Chickens

It may surprise you to know that Chickens have enough intelligence to be deceptive.

"Roosters curry favour and increase mating opportunities with hens by announcing the presence of a discovered bit of food , such as a seed or a juicy caterpillar. I have seen roosters do this on a farm near my home; to watch a hen come running, than watch her eat the morsel he might have enjoyed himself is to witness chicken chivalry at its finest. But roosters are not always so gallant. They sometimes deceive hens by uttering the food call when there is no nice titbit. It is thought that this behaviour may occasionally be rewarded with a mating. Obviously though it would not pay to deceive too often, for soon the deceiving rooster may be recognised as a fake and shunned by the hens. Studies find that roosters only utter deceptive food calls when a hen is some distance away and is easily fooled by the ruse.

I think it stretches credibility to think that such sophisticated behaviours could be instinctive."

Jonathan Balcombe, Pleasurable Kingdoms

Emotion is yet another indicator of sentience, a creature has to be aware in order to experience emotion. It is though important to note that rather like intelligence an animal may be sentient without necessarily being able to express, experience or display emotion. Nonetheless if we can demonstrate that an animal experiences emotion it does help to establish sentience.

Research has demonstrated that farm animals including chickens are capable of a whole range of emotions including anger, fear, happiness, loneliness, friendship and even jealousy.

Chickens like pigs, sheep, cattle, dogs and ourselves display a variety of emotional responses and frustration is one of them. Research shows us that hens like all sentient creatures form expectations and become frustrated and angst when their expectations are thwarted. In an experiment where chickens where deliberately prevented from getting food which they had previously received in a similar situation they where observed to responded by emitting  ‘gakel-calls’ which scientists have interpreted as emotional frustration.

Many animals are capable of compassion and forming friendships with both their own kind and other species.

Here are two stories of compassionate friendship and forgiveness.

Lauralee Blanchard paid just one doller to a factory farm for a "spent hen" an unplesant term used to describe a hen who is no longer able to lay, she bought four in fact.

"One of the chickens was particularly affectionate and sweet. In spite of what she had seen of human behaviour, she craved human company. Her leg was badly damaged by being tied too tightly when she was sold, yet she would limp over to Blanchard and with great difficulty jump up onto her lap, settling down contentedly while being gently stroked. Many people have written to me telling me how loving they find chickens and what intense bonds can develop." 

The Above extract is from the the book, The Pig who Sang to the Moon by Jeffery Massom.

What Wings Are For” - The Story of Ruby and Ivy, By Kay Evans

This is a charming story of altruism, compassion, a hen adopting an abandoned chick.

Ruby a chicken, a  buff Orpington hen, adopts Ivy a rescued chicken and takes her literally under her wing. 

Ruby was a buff Orpington hen whom we’d had since she was a chick. She lived among our main flock with her hen friends and a rooster. When Ruby was three years old, she moulted her feathers early, during the summer, and she seemed a little slower than usual, so we placed her in one of our “special needs” areas for a few days.

The next day I drove past a Perdue chicken shed on the way to visit my mother. These sheds were near the highway, and the doors were open. When I looked closer, I discovered two small chickens, abandoned among the manure and decomposing chickens left behind in one of the sheds by the chicken catchers...

Kay rescues the abandoned chickens whom she called ivy and oak. When sadly one of the two chickens died this left Ivy alone.

...this left Ivy alone, which made for more sadness, so we moved her in with Ruby and watched them closely. Seeing they shared food and water and seemed fine with each other, we hoped they’d become friends and keep each other company. A day or two later when Jim went to check on them, he discovered Ruby sheltering Ivy under her wing, and went back inside for the camera.

Ruby and Ivy soon moved in with the small, every-changing flock of rescued Perdue chickens, and continued on as mother and chick. Sometimes the two of them would spend the day in my flower garden. They would dig in the grass and dirt, Ruby calling to Ivy when she found a tasty bug or seed, and the two of them coming to rest as in the photo. As Ivy grew bigger, she would still try to tuck herself under Ruby’s wing, even though she was soon larger than Ruby. Finally, only her head fit under Ruby’s wing. Even so, they both appeared very happy resting together like this.

Please finish reading this story: “What Wings Are For” - The Story of Ruby and Ivy

Mr Joy who sadly died January 9th 2009 was a truly incredible being.

The story of this amazing chicken created quite a stir when it appeared in the Charlotte Observer.

"Raised from an egg, Mr. Joy was no ordinary chicken. He loved to watch TV, ride around on friendly shoulders and snuggling in his owners lap."

"In his 9 years of life, he touched many lives proving that when it comes to love, neither size nor species are important. 

Mr. Joy had a special knack for making people smile. He loved riding in his tiny basket, meeting people all over North Carolina at charity fundraisers, art galleries and pet parades. He reached a worldwide audience through his website with fans as far away as New Zealand that appreciated his special charm and message of animal sentience. Mr. Joy helped enlighten many folks to the plight of chickens raised in factory farms but he may be most well known for his work as a therapy pet. Mr. Joy visited nursing homes and assisted living centers locally bringing smiles and laughter to many elderly and disabled residents. His therapy work gained nationwide attention through television, radio and newspaper stories allowing him to reach an even wider audience.

For more information about Mr. Joy visit his website:

Mr Joy Coolest Chicken on the web!

I came across these two stories On the United Poultry Concerns website where you will find a great many other stories of  compassion, motherly love, emotions, friendship intelligence: in other words, sentience in poultry. In fact there are so many stories I did not know which to choose from as all seem so amazing, revealing a side to poultry that few people neither understand nor appreciate Thinking Like a Chicken ... Articles of Thought and UPC - Stories & Poems

After reading the above and visiting the websites below it is clear is it not that chickens are more complex than most of us are aware, they are intelligent, conscious, aware of self and others and thier environment and capable of emotions. Despite such overwhelming evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, many people will continue to adhere to the misconception that chickens are stupid, indeed the poultry farming industry wants you to continue to think this way knowing that an increasingly growing proportion of people are becoming uncomfortable about sitting down to a meal consisting of the dead flesh of a sentient being.

Chickens Stupid?

Consider: Perhaps it is we who are stupid as we fail to see the real nature of these creatures

References and links: // Cruelty to Animals // Chickens // The Hidden Lives of Chickens

Chicken-Yard - General Remarks - Behavioral Research About Chickens

Chickens are more evolved than previously believed

Credit: Chicken: photo by flickr user protohiro

Wiltshire Chicken on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

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