Have you ever noticed that your chickens seem to be watching and learning from not only one another but also from events taking place around the yard, up to and including what you may be doing? Do you watch your chickens seemingly calculate a way to perform different tasks? Do they respond to stimulus in an organized, logical way that makes sense even to you? The answer to these questions are probably yes, and the reason for that is because chickens very well may be the smartest animal in the barnyard.
Years ago it was reported that pigs were the intelligence equivalent of a three year old. Well, pigs, it is time to get out of the way because the chickens are moving to the head of the brainy pack. In recent research conducted at the University of Bristol by professor of animal welfare Christine Nicol, chickens have proven to have an impressive level of intelligence. When discussing her research, Ms. Nichol stated, "Studies over the past 20 years have revealed their finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead."
Some interesting conclusions drawn as a result of her research were that young chicks are aware that an object still exists even if that chick is no longer able to see the object. This is of great interest because a human baby cannot express the same understanding until typically after the age of one year. Also understood is the concept of thinking ahead and demonstrating impulse control. This comes into play at feeding time when certain chickens stay back from the feed until the crowd has dispersed. Only then will they eat, as if they seemingly know they will have ample time and a lack of competition as a result of waiting.
Also noted in this research is the ability of a chicken to differentiate between numbers up to five, a quality human children do not generally possess until the age of four. Chickens in this study also seemed to gravitate towards images that equated to the realities of science instead of those that were more geared toward fantasy. For example, chickens turned their beaks up at images that defied the laws of physics and were thus theoretically impossible or not real.
While science can teach us a lot about what chickens may think or perceive, so can living with chickens. If you spend your day to day with chickens as a part of your life, you will see that they have plenty of intelligence to guide them. Should you call the names of your chickens, they will most likely respond upon learning to associate those names with themselves. Around our farm, when we whistle up the horses, the chickens know to move out of the way of incoming hooves. They also understand that the horses sometimes drop grain and despite moving out of the footpath of the horses, they will gather back under the horses' feed buckets to clean up anything that is accidentally dropped.
The ability of a chicken to think, reason, and plan for the situation at hand should come as no surprise. They are, after all, a social species that learns from and emulates one another. They also have in place a system of calls and communication in place to aid them in survival. With all of this in mind, it should not come as much of a surprise that chickens can chalk basic math up to another one of their impressive skills.