Keeping Chickens Allows You to Observe Chicken Behavior

Keeping chickens allows for poultry observation, and you'll be cracking up over chicken behavior.

| May/June 2010

  • Proud Rooster
    This mixed-breed rooster rules the roost with colorful style.
    Terry Wild Stock
  • Hen With Chick
    Hens, such as this one, are actually quite motherly with their chicks, teaching them to forage.
    Dusty Boots Photography
  • Two Chickens Lounging Around
    These laced ladies are happy to clean up your leftover grains.
    Terry Wild Stock

  • Proud Rooster
  • Hen With Chick
  • Two Chickens Lounging Around

Around 8,000 years ago in the jungles of Thailand, or so the story goes, an ingenious individual braved beak and claws to catch a brightly colored jungle fowl. Then she caught another. Housed, fed and bred, the birds became domesticated and quickly spread across Asia and Europe.

Today, it’s estimated that there are more chickens in the world than people, with as many as 13 billion of the birds in China alone. Nobody knows for sure how many breeds of chicken there are, but we do know there are a lot.

Your backyard can sport a flock of Frizzles. You can have a coop of Crevecoeurs or a pen full of Plymouth Rocks. You can give your mama a Yokohama or a hutch full of Houdans. Or maybe you’d just want a Dorking hen to keep, because the breed’s name makes you laugh.

Weight-wise, Gallus gallus domesticus (the Latin name for all chickens) range from the teensy Serama Bantam that weighs no more than a can of soup to the aptly named Jersey Giant. They wear feathers of black, white and brown, of course, but also red, gray, blue, silver, gold and shimmering green. Like people, their body types vary from tall and skinny to short and plump. Their combs might be V-shaped, small and round, or reminiscent of a slicked-back James Dean style. Chickens all have sharp claws, but some are covered with what look like finely furred, elegant spats.

Hens – generally smaller than roosters – might lay white eggs or brown eggs (which, incidentally, have no difference, nutrition-wise), but you’ll also find naturally colored, non-Easter-Bunny-dyed blue, pink and green ones. Most hens start laying eggs around six months of age, and many, if allowed, are dedicated mothers. Hens often "talk" softly to chicks while incubating. Listen closely, and you might hear the not-quite-yet-hatched chicks peep back.

But don’t think the rooster is just around to make noise and chase hens (which they will do throughout the day, but more likely in the afternoon). His plumage is much showier than the hen’s; some breeds of cock fowl sport tail feathers that are measured in feet rather than inches. Those long feathers are a liability and a style statement for both fowl and fashionista. And even though a rooster’s crow has the equivalent decibel level of street traffic, anybody who’s tried to sleep near one knows that the cock-a-doodle-doo carries considerably.

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