Chickens are weird.
When we first started raising egglayers, I remember just sitting in the yard watching how they interacted with each other. They would walk around in little social groups, merrily plucking grubs from the soil and gossiping away like old ladies in a hair salon.
The first time I saw one snatch a mouse out of the woods I just about lost my mind. Chickens eat mice? Who knew? At the time I certainly didn’t. As I watched that hen run around with a mouse dangling from its beak, dancing back and forth as if it were showing off for the other girls, I realized there was so much more to chickens than most people see. At least those who don’t own them yet.
Chickens are pretty simple animals, and I think that’s why they are an easy place to get started for new homesteaders. They give us eggs. They entertain. And they really don’t cost a whole lot to keep.
But over the years we’ve discovered there’s more to a chicken than what you see on the surface. The way their anatomy is designed. Their diet. Their mannerisms and social hierarchy.
Simply put, chickens are weird.
Here’s what I mean…
A chicken’s egg color is determined by the color of their ear
Chickens don’t have ears like humans, but they do have ear lobes, which are easy to find on the side of their head. The color of the ear lobe usually will indicate the color egg they will lay. For instance, a chicken with red ear lobes will produce various shades of brown eggs, and those with white lobes will produce white eggs.
Hens are born with all of her eggs inside her body
Speaking of eggs, every hen is born with a predetermined amount of eggs, or ova, which are undeveloped embryos. Those embryos are already inside her body and will eventually become eggs once she has reached maturity. At any given time in a hens cycle, she will have several eggs in various stages of development.
One chicken will produce around 120 pounds of manure each year
When composted and mixed with a carbon source like straw, chicken manure is a fantastic amendment for the garden. This is one of the coolest things about chickens, in my opinion. Not only do they eat bugs and weeds and give us eggs, but all that stuff that comes out of their backside goes back into the soil to enrich it so we can grow other things. Talk about a productive little bird!
Chickens poop and push eggs out of the same place
The anatomy of a chicken is just plain weird. And kinda gross. The eggs we eat come out of a vent hole called the cloaca. The cloaca also serves as the hen’s vagina, and it’s where urine and poop come out as well.
Chickens have three eyelids
Each eye of a chicken has an upper lid, a lower lid and the nictitating membrane, also known as the third eyelid. When a chicken is awake, both the upper and lower lids are open. The nictitating membrane is a transparent lid they will blink frequently to help clean, moisten and protect their eye. Some reptiles also have a nictitating membrane over their eye. So chickens are pretty much dinosaurs.
Chickens can remember up to 100 human and animal faces
Sometimes chickens get a bad rap for being dimwitted, but they actually have the ability to recognize and remember certain things like faces. I suppose that’s why they will follow me and Katie around everywhere confidently but run away from strangers.
Chickens have to eat around 4 pounds of food to make one dozen eggs
That’s a lot of food for a chicken. However, they spend most of their days eating so I guess it adds up.
When stressed, a chicken will lose it’s feathers
Chickens will lose their feathers for several reasons, like molting and bullying from within the flock. But stress can be a common reason for feather loss as well. Stress can be caused by heat, hunger, sudden housing changes or adding new chickens to the flock.
I suppose if chickens were anything but strange we wouldn’t have such an affection for them. So often our culture has relegated them to only being a source of food. This kind of distant, “factory” mindset doesn’t sit well with me at all. Chickens have personality. They were uniquely designed with purpose.
And weird is kinda cool, if you ask me.