Chickens are originally raised for cockfighting and later for eggs and meat. They are some of the best livestock animals to keep. They are not picky about what they eat since they can consume most food that humans can eat.
But once people start keeping chickens as pets and taking care of them, they notice that chickens do show some traits of personalities and feelings. It seems like chickens can feel many things. So are chickens sentient?
Are chickens sentient?
Chickens are sentient creatures. They are able to experience a wide range of feelings. They can show feelings of empathy, pain, and they are proven to be intelligent in certain aspects.
What makes a chicken sentient?
Chickens can experience many types of emotion, and all of them are aimed toward the fellow chickens, their baby chicks if the chickens are hens, and to their human owners. Some of the emotion include:
Chickens can show empathy, which means they can understand and share other chickens feeling nearby, especially their own baby chicks.
If other chickens or the hen’s baby chicks experience any emotion, then the hen will likely respond with it experiencing the same feeling.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) recognizes that chickens have a fundamental capacity to empathize.
Chickens’ empathy has not only been researched to verify its existence but also been applied in farm-raised chickens aiming to reduce the stress the chickens experience while living in their not-so-ideal condition.
Chickens, especially domesticated ones, are observed to have certain traits showing their alertness.
Hens show their fear by spending more time on preening and standing alert. Fear in chickens has been observed before empathy. People noticed that hens usually avoid environments that make them increase their preening and standing rate.
Stress is one of the ways chickens show empathy toward their baby chicks and other chickens. The hens have the ability to recognize the distress their baby chicks are experiencing.
This behavior has been researched and tested by using the air puff treatment. It is used to observe the effect on the hens when their baby chicks are exposed to distress feeling.
In this test, the chicks were exposed to the air puffs, and they are applied to the chicks’ eyes, with and without the presence of the mother hen. The distress behaviors in chicks included:
- The eyes of the chicks’ temperature are reduced
- Ground pecking is increased
- Preening is increased
- Standing is increased compared to the normal movement rate. (source)
The result showed that when the hen recognized distress, its heart rate increased, which matched relatively to the distress exhibited by the baby chicks.
Furthermore, if the hen is present, distress behaviors in the chicks are shown less, which shows the empathy of the hen toward its baby chicks is associated with the distress of the chicks decreasing.
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Are chickens self-aware?
Chickens can show some level of self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the awareness of one’s identity, body, and thoughts. In other words, self-awareness means one knows about themselves in the world around them, separated from other beings.
There are 2 concepts that may indicate the chickens’ self-awareness, they are:
Chickens can show self-control behavior where they would hold themselves back and wait for a bigger reward when there is a smaller reward being present in front of them (source).
The self-control ability may not be directly connected to all forms of self-awareness, it is still important to indicate a sense of self to some extent.
The self-control ability is thought to be dependent on the episodic memory’s presence. With the ability, the mind has to think about and work through different scenarios for the future and choose which one is the best.
In the case of the experiment above, it is thought that the chicken’s self-control thought about the possibility of getting a bigger reward in the future if it chooses to ignore the treat before its eyes, for the greater good.
Self-assessment is the ability to compare oneself to others. And chickens can somewhat show this ability.
They can observe the interactions of a chicken they know with ones that they don’t, then infer their status relative to the unknown chickens to respond accordingly, whether showing dominance or submissive acts.
Do chickens recognize their owners?
Chickens can show feelings to their human owners as well. And they can recognize their owners from many other human beings. Particularly, they can recognize up to 100 human faces.
Furthermore, they can associate the face with a good or bad experience. They can know if the owners have done anything bad to them. If the experience with the owners is good, the chickens may even grow a bond with them.
Chickens also have the ability to pass down information, including information about the experience with the owners. So if you want to grow affection with the chickens, try to act nicely in their favor.
Do chickens get sad when another chicken dies?
Within the flock, a chicken can hold its social status, and also form bonds with multiple chickens. So when chickens die, the ones formed bonds with the dead chickens could feel grief and suffer pretty badly from it.
Moreover, just because chickens can be cannibalistic, doesn’t mean they can’t feel sad for the dead chickens.
So, are chickens sentients? Chickens are sentient creatures. It has been proven that chickens can show certain feelings like pain, stress, and empathy, whether toward fellow chickens, their baby chicks, or their human owners.
Chickens also can show certain signs of self-awareness. That includes self-control and self-assessment.
Self-control is shown when chickens hold themselves against the reward in front of them for a possibly better reward later, while self-assessment lets them infer their social status relative to the unknown chickens.