Where do chickens come from?
Domestic chickens are descended from the junglefowl of Asia, and were probably first domesticated by humans about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.
How are modern chickens different to their wild ancestors?
In recent times, meat chickens have been bred to grow very quickly so as to produce the maximum amount of meat in the minimum amount of time. Some chickens can now reach slaughter weight in as little as five weeks, whereas 50 years ago it would have taken around 12 weeks. Despite this strong selective breeding, modern chicken breeds still have the motivation to carry out many of the behaviours their wild ancestors did.
Some key natural chicken behaviours include:
In the wild, chickens will seek safety from predators at night by perching in trees. This behaviour also helps to conserve body heat because the chickens huddle close together. Chickens are therefore strongly motivated to perch, and providing facilities to allow birds to perform this behaviour also allows them the opportunity to exercise.
Chickens are inquisitive animals and like to explore their environment by, for example, pecking at interesting objects and scratching at the ground.
Chickens find a dry material (such as litter or fine soil) and encourage it into their plumage by fluffing up their feathers, squatting on the ground and making tossing, rubbing and shaking movements with their body, wings, head and legs. This helps to remove parasites, keep their skin and feathers in good condition, and keep their body temperature comfortable.
Comfort, exercise and grooming behaviours
These include preening, feather ruffling, head scratching, body shaking and wing stretching and flapping.
Recent scientific studies suggest that chickens are much more intelligent than commonly thought. Chickens make about 20 different types of vocalisations with specific meanings, including different alarm calls for different predators! It is also thought that they can recognise particular individuals in their social group.