The Counting Chicken

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					                               Chickens Can Count!
             To accompany the Georgia Agricultural Education Curriculum
                         Courses 01.432-7.1 &02.471-8.4

Sally's chore was to gather the eggs from her family's yard
chickens. Yard chickens are seldom seen any more, but
years ago many people let their chicken flocks roam freely
around the farmstead.

An advantage to this method was that the chickens found
much of their own food, helped control insects and
salvaged scattered grain and other food from the field and
barnyard that would otherwise be wasted. One
disadvantage of letting chickens run free-range was that the
chickens often ignored the nests that the family might provide and found their own places
to lay eggs. Such places were often under the barn or in a grassy area in the garden. A
smart old hen's nest was often hard to find because her natural instinct was to hide the
nest from predators, including humans, who would eat her eggs.

Yard eggs have a different interior color than other eggs because of the hen's varied diet.
Some people like the rich color and taste of yard eggs. Grocery stores sometimes carry
them as "Free-Range" eggs - usually at a much higher price than regular layer house eggs.

It took Sally a long time to find the eggs because the hens kept moving their nests after
she had taken all their eggs the day before. Sally had to search for their new nesting
places. (Maybe this is where the Easter egg hunt got started.) If she had only known that
chickens could count, she could have finished her chores much quicker and then had time
to do other things!

Yes, chickens can count - not very high, but they can count. Chickens are sort of like
computers. They can recognize zero and one. You may be wondering how this bit of
information could have helped Sally have a little more free time.

                        Well, if Sally had known that chickens could count, she could
                        have left a ‘nest egg’ in each nest and not had to search for the
                        hens' new hiding places. A nest egg is a natural or artificial egg
                        left in the nest to induce a fowl to continue to lay eggs there.
                        When a hen returns to where she laid her eggs and finds them all
                        gone, she thinks a predator has found that nest, and she will find
another place to lay her eggs. As long as an egg is there, the hen thinks the nest is safe
and will continue to use it. People once used glass or stone eggs as nest eggs. That way
they could remove all the real eggs each day. Feed and supply stores often sold artificial
eggs as nest eggs.



                      Written by Frank Flanders and Leanne Stalvey, February 2001     1 of 2
                                  Georgia Ag Ed Curriculum Office
So you see, chickens can count. If there are no eggs left in the nest, the hen knows there
are zero eggs there. Since the hens' natural instinct is to lay a group or "clutch" of eggs,
she will keep laying only where she thinks it is safe to do so. Once she lays a group of
several eggs, she goes into "brood" mode and sits on the eggs for approximately 21 days
to keep them at the proper temperature to hatch.

Wild birds have the same counting instinct. If you disturb their nest even slightly, they
often move to another site. This behavior is often not observed in chickens in laying
houses. These hens will lay in the area in which they are confined. The natural instincts
of wild animals are often not exhibited by domestic animals because generations after
generation of these animals have been forced to behave contrary to their natural instincts.

Discussion questions:

What is a natural instinct?
A natural instinct is the ability of an animal, based on its genetic makeup, to respond to
an environmental stimulus. Instincts do not involve a mental decision. Natural instincts
are behaviors that animals are born with.

Why do animals have natural instincts?
Animals have natural instincts to help them survive. It is Mother Nature's way of
protecting them from birth throughout their lives.

What are some other natural instincts of wild animals that domestic animals lack?
Cats in the wild build a bed in which to have their kittens. House cats often do not. They
may just have their kittens in the middle of the floor. Sows that are allowed to roam
freely may have their young in the middle of the field rather than in a bed like wild hogs.

However, domestic animals still often exhibit instincts such as building a bed for their
young even though hundreds of generations removed from the wild.

How could understanding an animal's natural instincts be beneficial?
It is easier and often safer to work animals when you understand why they act the way
they do. You can predict how they will act in certain situations such as knowing that a
horse may want to run off when frightened (fight or flight instinct).

Have you observed male dogs urinating on trees and other objects around your home?
Can you explain their behavior?
Dogs urinate on objects to mark their territory like wild dogs and wolves. They mark
their territory to warn other dogs to stay out.

Can chickens really count?
No, chickens cannot really count. They can tell if there are any eggs left in their nest
though. This ability is a natural instinct.


                       Written by Frank Flanders and Leanne Stalvey, February 2001         2 of 2
                                   Georgia Ag Ed Curriculum Office

				
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