New scientific evidence shows that chickens are much more than egg-layers and nuisances to your neighbors—they may even be smarter than dogs! According to Krista Servies (U of I vet professor) chickens, especially the sort found in backyards and small coops, have evolved to meet the societal demands of the middle-class backyard.
Before 2000, owners had very few expectations of their chickens. Farmers expected them to lay eggs, fertilize the land, and then fry up juicy and feed the family. That was it—no emotion, and no challenge for the hens.
Today, owners of backyard chickens expect more from their hens. We humans have emotional needs. We expect our hens to greet us when we come home from a hard day at work, just like the backyard dog has done for centuries. A flock of hens running toward you has a way of making all the stress of the day just disappear. Their squawks and guttural caws soothe the weary soul.
A significant piece to this transformation is the removal of the rooster. Roosters are loud and violent, and completely unnecessary for the laying of eggs. This makes life much easier for the backyard hen that no longer has to suffer the demands of mating. Today’s hen is free to peck and preen wherever she wishes. She is also free to express herself, not only in more dramatic egg-songs (hens often cluck loudly to announce that they have laid an egg), but also in intellectual endeavors.
Backyard chicken owners across Champaign-Urbana are reporting even more miraculous occurrences. Jane Smitty, of Urbana, said: “I went out in the morning, just like usual, to collect their eggs. The sun was just peeking over the horizon; its golden rays floating over the yard like mist. The rays settled on the hens as they came out of the coop one by one. They formed a line and each stood on one leg, spreading their wings as if in flight-each greeting the day. It was really beautiful.”
Smitty is not alone in her observances. Owners all over C-U are reporting highly emotional experiences with their hens. Bill March of Champaign said, “They’re really amazing! They rush to greet me every time I come into the back yard, excited to see whatever scrap of food I’ve brought them. They won’t let me pet them or anything, but somehow, that doesn’t even matter.”
The fever is spreading. Homeowners throughout Champaign-Urbana are buying young chicks and raising them not for eggs, but as intellectually stimulating pets. Will dogs soon be replaced? Perhaps this summer, instead of waking up to the incessant yapping of your neighbor’s dog, you will rise to the gentle squawk of egg-song, and the flutter of chicken wings.