Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chickens and turkeys -- one big misunderstanding

Lets talk a minute about the life of an average farm chicken or turkey

Picture: You look like me, and we understand each other
First -- most of them never get to see an adult bird. They're purchased as chicks or poults, and raised in a group of other chicks or poults. What I find amazing about this is that they are able to come up with communication that is basically identical from generation to generation.

I'm talking about the basic stuff, like "here's food" calls, or "danger!" or "I've laid an egg!" to more complex stuff like courtship ("I'm ready, lets go!") and they do this in most cases without any adult role models.

That's the communication between members of the same species. Chickens can talk to chickens, and turkeys to turkeys, but they cannot figure each other out at all. What a turkey views as a clear message is basically nonsense to a chicken, and the opposite is true.

You'd think you'd see this most often around food or water, competing. That's actually the easiest place to be understood. The message is simple: I am more confident than you, and I get to eat first". Size doesn't matter as much as just pure willpower. The bantam roosters can and do face down turkey toms that are 10x their size and win that confrontation.

It happens when the flock is relaxing, and it's the subtle stuff -- like "move over a little, I want to perch there, but you can stay" devolves into a hard peck and a few missing feathers. The bird moving in thinks it was clear -- and to the same species, it was, but across species, it's just not understood.

picture: I raise a mixed flock of poultry, mostly chickens and turkeys. I have a few ducks and a few geese.

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