Michelle Dunn gives a cockerel to a friend and witnesses a change in his behaviour that she hadn’t expected
MANY DISCUSSIONS have been held over the years as to whether someone’s personality comes about from nature or nurture. In other words, were they born this way, or did they learn it as they grew up?
I had an opportunity to see how the nature/nurture theory applied to chickens recently. I gave our old boss cockerel George to Jacqui, a friend with eight ex-battery hens. Jacqui’s hens’ behaviour is very different to George’s behaviour. Jacqui’s hens have the run of her garden, but they don’t roam far from the house and they often go inside and watch an episode of Bargain Hunt while Jacqui is working. They also love cuddles. George is used to roaming eight acres of land, has never been allowed in the house and would run a mile if I tried to cuddle him. The question I asked myself was: will George’s behaviour change when he moves to his new home? And if so, how much?
If anything, I expected George’s behaviour to stay much the same. He is four years old now, so very set in his ways and with no competition in the form of other cockerels about, I expected him to dictate his ways to the ex-bats. Jacqui, on the other hand, expected her strong-minded ex-bats to completely dominate the cockerel.
So what happened? Well, Jacqui and I were both wrong. George changed some parts of his behaviour completely, but so did the ex-bats. For example, George no longer roosts on a high perch as he used to, but instead spends the night in one of the hens’ nest boxes. He has decided he now likes grapes, as the ex-bats consider grapes to be one of the best treats known to chickenkind. He even goes into the house (although he draws the line at allowing Jacqui to pick him up, or even touch him).
Meanwhile, the ex-bats have been bitten by the wandering bug, and they now follow George into the orchard and across the field. At first they were afraid of him, but he soon won them over and now they follow him adoringly wherever he goes.
So it seems that chickens are extremely adaptable birds and they can change their behaviour to suit their surroundings and the company they keep. Perhaps this explains why they have established themselves so successfully around the world.
Cockerels are intelligent and quick to adapt to new situations
George is settling well into his new life