20+ things chick­ens know by in­stinct

COM­ING UP IN YOUR POUL­TRY THIS MONTH 20+ IN­STINC­TIVE BE­HAV­IOURS IN CHICK­ENS (AND A FEW BA­SICS THEY GET WRONG) The chicken is a fighter, not a lover, a born percher and bather, but not that bright when it comes to know­ing who their friends are.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Front Page - Words Sue Clarke & Nadene Hall

(and a few ba­sics they get wrong)

1 CHICKS HAVE SOME AMAZ­ING PRE-PRO­GRAMMED IN­STINCTS…

Early re­search on chicken be­hav­iour fo­cused on de­ter­min­ing which ones are in­stinc­tive and which are learned. In a study, chicks blind­folded from the on­set of hatch un­til 1-3 days of age still in­stinc­tively preened them­selves and scratched on the ground. When given a worm, even if alone, these chicks ran around as though there might be oth­ers in pur­suit of the worm. Other re­search has shown that chicks in­stinc­tively show fear of sting­ing in­sects but try to catch flies.

2 … BUT NOT EV­ERY­THING COMES NAT­U­RALLY

How­ever, some be­hav­iours have to be taught. For ex­am­ple, chicks peck at their own exc­reta un­til they learn not to.

Chicks must also be taught to drink. When chicks are raised with­out a hen, pro­duc­ers must dip their beaks in wa­ter so that they learn to drink. When the beak gets wet, the chick’s drink­ing re­sponse is ini­ti­ated.

Re­searchers have ob­served that chicks will not peck at a sheet of wa­ter, even if they are thirsty and stand­ing in it, but they will peck at shiny ob­jects or bub­bles in

the wa­ter.

3 CHICK-CHAT STARTS BE­FORE HATCH­ING

There is some ev­i­dence of pre­hatch­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­tween hens and chicks. Em­bryos and hens be­gin to vo­calise the day be­fore hatch­ing and do so more and more of­ten as hatch­ing ap­proaches. If an em­bryo be­gins to give a dis­tress call, the hen vo­calises or moves on the nest and the em­bryo be­comes silent or be­gins to emit plea­sure calls.

4 CHICKS WILL LOVE ANY­ONE, SO LONG AS THEY’RE WARM…

The main need of newly-hatched chicks is warmth. Re­search has shown that chicks

will press against any source of warmth if they are cold and the source need not be a hen. Con­tact with a hu­man hand as early as 15 min­utes af­ter hatch­ing has been shown to re­duce the num­ber of dis­tress calls. The cluck­ing sound of the hen has also been shown to re­duce dis­tress calls.

5 … BUT VERY YOUNG CHICKS PRE­FER A HEN

In stud­ies, young chicks that had not been ex­posed to the sound or sight of a hen ran to a box con­tain­ing a hen and other chicks. This in­stinct to re­spond to the hen, how­ever, is lost by eight days of age. When chicks from dif­fer­ent hens were com­bined and al­lowed to min­gle, they were able to lo­cate the ap­pro­pri­ate hen when the hens were placed with the group. Af­ter three weeks of age, the chicks were less ef­fec­tive in do­ing so.

6 HENS HAVE NO FAVOURITES

When it comes to a brood of chicks it is sim­ply first come, first served when you’re a mother hen - but only if she can hear them.

Vo­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is im­por­tant in the hen-chick re­la­tion­ship. If a chick is hid­den from its hen, it gives dis­tress calls, and the hen typ­i­cally goes in the di­rec­tion of the sound. But if the chick is in a glass con­tainer so that the hen can see but not hear it, the hen takes no no­tice of it.

7 CHICKS ARE FAIRLY IN­DE­PEN­DENT FROM A YOUNG AGE

For the first 10-12 days af­ter hatch­ing, chicks stay close to the hen. Af­ter this age, they be­gin to feed in­de­pen­dently of her, although they will still sleep and warm them­selves un­der her. This stage lasts from 6-8 weeks of age.

8

HENS BREAK UP FAM­I­LIES

The time at which a hen dis­as­so­ci­ates from her brood varies, but it’s usu­ally be­fore the chicks are 12-16 weeks, and she ini­ti­ates the break-up. She pushes her chicks away and re­joins the adult birds. If she can’t re­turn to other adults, she will re­main in charge un­til the males in the group ma­ture and be­gin to dom­i­nate her. If she has only one or two chicks, she may tol­er­ate her off­spring longer than usual.

9 THE PECK­ING OR­DER STARTS PRETTY QUICKLY

Re­cently-hatched chicks do not typ­i­cally show any com­pet­i­tive be­hav­iour un­til af­ter three days of age, but by 16 days of age, fight­ing to de­ter­mine the peck­ing or­der be­gins. Re­search has shown that when groups are com­posed en­tirely of fe­male chicks, the peck­ing or­der is es­tab­lished by the 10th week. In small groups, the or­der is typ­i­cally es­tab­lished ear­lier, around eight weeks. With groups of males, the so­cial or­der may re­main un­re­solved for many weeks more.

10 SOME ARE BORN LEAD­ERS

Cer­tain chicks within a brood de­velop lead­er­ship roles. Sci­en­tists tested a sce­nario in which there were two sources of heat, only one of which was turned on. Chicks would gather around the one turned on. If that heater was turned off and the other turned on, chicks moved to the other heat source. But some chicks re­peat­edly re­sponded sooner than oth­ers, and a few were also ob­served leav­ing the group un­der the warm heat lamp to go to a chick lag­ging in the cold so that it would fol­low the leader to the heat source.

11 CHICK­ENS AREN’T RE­LI­ABLE WIT­NESSES

Birds that nor­mally form a so­cial hi­er­ar­chy, such as chick­ens, doves, and pi­geons, usu­ally at­tack a new bird of the same species or breed that is in­tro­duced into the pen or cages.

In or­der to de­velop a peck­ing or­der, birds must be able to recog­nise in­di­vid­u­als in a flock so they can iden­tify and peck only those lower in the peck­ing or­der. How­ever, it is not clear what clues chick­ens are us­ing in or­der to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual chick­ens within a flock.

Early re­search ex­am­ined the ef­fect of re­turn­ing an ex­per­i­men­tally-mod­i­fied bird to a flock. If the bird was pecked, re­searchers as­sumed that the oth­ers in the flock did not recog­nise the bird. For ex­am­ple, it was shown that if a floppy comb of a hen was moved to the other side of its head, she was not recog­nised by the oth­ers in the flock.

Sim­i­larly, when in­di­vid­ual hens were re­turned to a flock af­ter re­moval of their comb, they were at­tacked by the hens that had pre­vi­ously been be­low them in the peck­ing or­der. If, how­ever, a larger num­ber of dubbed hens were re­turned to the flock, the chick­ens were able to de­velop a new peck­ing or­der which would sug­gest that the comb is not the only fac­tor used in iden­ti­fy­ing in­di­vid­u­als in a flock.

Re­search shows that in­di­vid­ual birds re­act to feather changes and make ad­just­ments. In­tense colour changes on white in­di­vid­u­als are more ef­fec­tive in pro­duc­ing a loss of recog­ni­tion than dif­fer­ent shades or tints. Al­ter­ations of the head and neck were shown to be more ef­fec­tive in pro­duc­ing a loss of recog­ni­tion than changes to ar­eas of the main body. Their con­clu­sion: no sin­gle fea­ture is the sole means of recog­ni­tion.

12 MORE CHICK­ENS, LESS PROB­LEMS

A lay­ing hen can recog­nise around 30 in­di­vid­u­als, but the so­cial struc­ture de­vel­oped in small groups be­gins to break down in flocks of 30-60 birds. When there are more than 60 birds in a flock, the chick­ens be­come less ag­gres­sive and more tol­er­ant.

15 FOOD COL­LEC­TION IS THE MAIN POINT OF LIFE

In the wild, jun­gle fowl spend 61% of their time for­ag­ing. For­ag­ing be­hav­iours in­clude peck­ing and scratch­ing at po­ten­tial food sources, and look­ing for and sam­pling pos­si­ble food sources.

Pro­vid­ing chick­ens with a com­plete feed elim­i­nates the need for for­ag­ing in or­der to ob­tain nu­tri­ents, but the hens will con­tinue per­form­ing this be­hav­iour any­way. Although find­ing food is not the ul­ti­mate goal of the for­ag­ing be­hav­iour in do­mes­ti­cated fowl, re­searchers have not yet been able to de­ter­mine any other mo­ti­va­tion. There are a num­ber of the­o­ries, but lit­tle ev­i­dence to sup­port them.

16 OLDER HENS TEACH THE YOUNG ONES WHERE TO LAY

It is im­por­tant for pul­lets to have ac­cess to nest­ing boxes be­fore they start to lay. If a hen will have to jump up to a nest, she must be trained to do so when young. If she does not learn then, she’s more likely to end up lay­ing a greater num­ber of eggs on the floor.

Birds are mim­ics, and the first lay­ers be­come the teach­ers for the re­main­ing pul­lets in a flock.

17 SOME HENS ARE ODD IN THEIR NEST BOX PREF­ER­ENCES

Hens dif­fer in their pref­er­ence for nest­ing lo­ca­tion. When a group of hens are given the choice be­tween a nest box and a lit­ter tray, the ma­jor­ity pre­fer the nest box but there are al­ways some who pre­fer the lit­ter tray.

Those that se­lect the lit­ter tray tend to be the ones which spend more time ex­plor­ing dur­ing the hour prior to lay­ing an egg than those that se­lected the nest box.

The pre-lay­ing be­hav­iour of do­mes­tic chick­ens is sim­i­lar for most hens. Be­fore lay­ing, a hen shows rest­less­ness and be­gins to look for a nest, pok­ing her head into the nest boxes pro­vided. Be­tween nest ex­am­i­na­tions, she typ­i­cally re­sumes other be­hav­iour she has been per­form­ing like eat­ing, preen­ing, sleep­ing, and so on. Over time, the hen puts more and more of her body into the nest boxes she is ex­am­in­ing, even­tu­ally en­ter­ing one and set­tling down.

Dif­fer­ent breeds may ex­hibit some as­pects of pre-lay­ing be­hav­iour more than oth­ers. Leghorn hens typ­i­cally show pro­nounced search­ing and nest se­lec­tion be­hav­iour. As a re­sult, these hens spend more time vis­it­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing a num­ber of po­ten­tial nest sites be­fore choos­ing one. In con­trast, hy­brid lay­ers of brown-shelled eggs tend to sit longer in nests and per­form nest build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pre-lay­ing be­hav­iour is trig­gered by hor­mones as­so­ci­ated with the last ovu­la­tion. Nor­mally, the pre-lay­ing be­hav­iour be­gins an hour or two be­fore the egg is ready to be laid. If egg lay­ing is de­layed for some rea­son, the pe­riod for pre-lay­ing be­hav­iour will pass, and the hen will no longer be mo­ti­vated to search for a nest. In these cases, the egg may be laid out­side the nest while the hen goes about other ac­tiv­i­ties. This can hap­pen when dom­i­nant hens are pre­vent­ing sub­or­di­nate hens from en­ter­ing nests.

18 HENS LOVE A GOOD BATH

Do­mes­tic hens pre­fer to lay in nests con­tain­ing loose ma­te­rial that they can set­tle into, mould­ing the ma­te­rial with their bod­ies and feet, and then ma­nip­u­lat­ing it with their beaks.

19 A GOOD BEAUTY REGIME IS IM­POR­TANT

Groom­ing ac­tiv­ity in birds is re­ferred to as preen­ing, and car­ing for feath­ers is im­por­tant for in­su­la­tion and wa­ter­proof­ing, in ad­di­tion to flight for those bird species that can fly.

Feath­ers are com­posed of a shaft with sev­eral long thin struc­tures called barbs. These barbs are held to­gether by smaller bar­bules. Some­times the barbs are pulled apart, which makes the feather in­ef­fec­tive for in­su­la­tion and wa­ter­proof­ing. A bird runs its feath­ers through its beak when it preens, which re­aligns the barbs and makes the feath­ers bet­ter able to per­form their func­tions.

Birds also need to keep their feath­ers oiled to pre­vent them from be­com­ing brit­tle and to help with in­su­la­tion and wa­ter­proof­ing. Birds have a sin­gle oil gland near the base of the tail, re­ferred to as the preen gland. Birds pinch this gland

21 PERCH­ING IS LEARNT YOUNG

By three weeks of age, chicks start to jump up to higher sur­faces. The struc­ture of a chicken’s claws en­sures a firm grip while the chicken is perch­ing and will pre­vent it from fall­ing off a perch, even when it is asleep.

Chick­ens go to perches about half an hour be­fore twi­light, with the ac­tual time depend­ing on light in­ten­sity. For ex­am­ple, they will perch ear­lier than ex­pected on a dull, cloudy day and later than ex­pected on a bright, clear day.

Chick­ens snug­gle to­gether dur­ing the night and start spread­ing out about two hours be­fore the lights come on. Their morn­ing wake-up time is typ­i­cally 30 min­utes be­fore dawn, but again the ac­tual tim­ing of this ac­tiv­ity varies depend­ing on the weather con­di­tions.

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