We wouldn’t serve Felix for dinner—but what do our cats have that chickens don’t? Anyone who has spent time around chickens can attest to the fact that they are just as loving, intelligent, and capable of feeling pain and suffering as our feline companions. So why do we call one “friend” and the other “food”?
Chowing down on chicken flesh and other meats means certain death for smart and affectionate birds and other animals. Scientists have proved what people who run farm sanctuaries have said all along—that chickens are fast learners who have distinct personalities. Some are shy and run away when someone new comes into the yard, some are bold and gregarious, greeting each new guest with a variety of clucks and even hopping onto all available human laps.
Chickens also have complex social relationships called a “pecking order.” They have 30 different vocalizations that they use to communicate contentment, fear, and alarm—they even have separate calls to distinguish between predators approaching by land and by water.
Chickens can be friendly and loyal, and they are intelligent and affectionate, just like the cats who share our homes. Yet many people who are appalled by the thought of killing and eating cats regularly consume the flesh of these smart and sensitive birds.
Some might ask, “Chickens are bred for food, so what’s wrong with eating them?” But of course, in many Asian countries, the same question could be posed about cats. Basic biology tells us that being bred for a certain purpose does not change an animal’s capacity to feel pain, fear, or sorrow. Animals who are bred for human consumption still suffer greatly at the hands of factory farmers and slaughterhouse workers.
Chickens on factory farms are denied everything that is natural to them—they will never be able to take dustbaths, build nests, or raise their young. They spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with thousands of other birds, and this intense crowding and confinement leads to outbreaks of disease. They are given powerful drugs to ensure that they gain weight as quickly as possible, and their unnatural size can lead to heart attacks and organ failure. Some chickens become crippled under their own weight. When they are only 6 or 7 weeks old, these chickens will be thrown into cages and sent off to slaughter.
People from some cultures eat cats, and some people eat chickens, but with a world of vegetarian foods to choose from, it’s high time we left all animals off the menu. The best way to show all animals some real respect is to stop eating them. Learn how you can leave animals off your plate and adopt a healthy and humane vegetarian diet.
Fascinating Chicken Facts
- Chickens are as smart as mammals, including some primates, according to animal behaviorist Dr. Chris Evans, who runs the animal behavior lab at Macquarie University in Australia and lectures on his work with chickens. He explains that, for example, chickens are able to understand that recently hidden objects still exist, which is actually beyond the intellectual capacity of small children. Discussing chickens’ various abilities, he says, “As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.”
- Dr. Joy Mench, professor and director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California at Davis explains, “Chickens show sophisticated social behavior. … That’s what a pecking order is all about. They can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them.”
- In her book The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken, Dr. Lesley Rogers, a professor of neuroscience and animal behavior, concludes that chickens have cognitive capabilities equivalent to mammals—in other words, they’re just as smart as cats and dogs.
- Dr. Christine Nicol of the University of Bristol explains, “Chickens have shown us they can do things people didn’t think they could do. There are hidden depths to chickens, definitely.”
- The video “Let’s Ask the Animals,” produced by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour in the United Kingdom, shows chickens learning which bowls contain food by watching television, learning to peck a button three times in order to obtain food, and learning how to navigate a complex obstacle course in order to get to a nesting box.
- In 2002, the PBS documentary The Natural History of the Chicken revealed that “[c]hickens love to watch television and have vision similar to humans. They also seem to enjoy all forms of music, especially classical.”
- Chickens are able to gather knowledge by watching the mistakes of others and are very adept at teaching and learning.
- Chickens can learn to use switches and levers to change the temperature in their surroundings and to open doors to feeding areas.
- A mother hen will turn her eggs as many as five times an hour and cluck to her chicks, who will chirp back to her and to one another from within their shells!