When I first got chickens I did a fair bit of reading about them. There’s plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that chooks are pretty darned bright. They communicate with numerous different clucks and calls, they recognise individual (up to 100 of them) chickens and humans and they can be trained – maybe not to sit and stay, but complex concepts like delayed gratification they get. Chicken lovers are full of clever chicken stories. Let me add mine to the mix.
Lately, on a pretty much twice-daily basis, we’ve been chopping up vegetable matter (sweet corn husks, broccoli stumps, kohlrabi leaves,….) to feed to our girls. We have heaps of offcuts and the chooks really don’t eat scraps if they aren’t chopped; there’s too much easier pickings out there. We’ve learned that if we mix it in our mini-food processor, it gets nice and small and the girls gobble it up. Of course mixing it with yogurt and adding a dollop of yogurt on top makes it even better. (Luckily I make our yogurt so we don’t need to be stingy.)
A while ago Frank asked me if I thought that the girls would start to recognise the sound of the food processor and get ready for their food. I said, “no way”. I was confident in this because a) we make all kinds of noise in the house and why would they pay attention to something coming from an internal room? b) sometimes we blend a good 30 minutes before serving (we often prepare treats before going out and locking the girls in their run) and c) sometimes we blend for ourselves and they don’t get a treat. How could they make the connection?
I am amazed and pleased to say I was wrong. Now, whenever the food processor starts, Isabel makes a very loud call. If it’s not the same call she makes when she’s separated from the flock (i.e., the other 2 chickens) it is so close that I can’t tell the difference. She moves near the back door and keeps issuing that whine while the treat prep continues and for a few minutes after. It happens every time we mix, always within a few seconds of the food processor being turned on. There’s no denying that Isabel has figured out this sound precedes her favourite treat – yogurt.
Here’s their afternoon treat. Yes, I reuse the morning plates and bowls without washing; I don’t think they care. I now provide 3 servings. I used to prepare 1 until I realised that Bronwyn started pushing the other 2 away after the first mad feeding frenzy – I added a 2nd plate for Isabel and Rosie to share. Then I noticed Isabel had started biting Rosie and chasing her away from the 2nd plate. Poor Rosie would walk around looking forlornly at the treat plates. Isabel’s a scratcher (she scrapes her foot across any treat plate) so there were bits on the grass for Rosie to steal, but still. Now the house rule is all treats must be delivered in 3 equal and separate portions. Imagine if I had a dozen birds!
Here’s Isabel proving she doesn’t care if the bowl is dirty.
Not only has Isabel figured out what that blending sound (often) means, she’s also learned that each treat plate comes complete with a dollop of yogurt. She rushes to each plate as I set it down and takes a huge beak-full of yogurt before relinquishing the rest to the other hens.
Chickens may not have the IQ of a primate, but they aren’t just dumb beasts either. Of course mine are much cleverer than the average chooks 😉