5 Fun Facts About Chickens

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Chickens love to play in the back yard.

Raising chickens is one of the main ways that we produce food for ourselves. But chickens don’t just have to be a means to nourish our bodies. The fact is that chickens are intelligent, very social birds with individual distinct personalities. They act just as any other pet would – you can train them to come when you call, they like to snuggle, they are silly and like to play. Chickens are also a great way to teach children how to care for animals and how to grow their own food, so they can learn where their food comes from and gain a deeper sense of connection to the world around them.

In honor of chickens everywhere, in celebration of National Pet Month (#NationalPetMonth), and to remind our readers of our upcoming Chickens for Beginners class on Saturday May 11, 10 am, at the store, I wanted to write a fun article about our feathered friends.

Fun Fact #1: Chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Yep, you read that right. It’s not iguanas, or anole lizards…it’s chickens. Modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs, as one of the cross-over species, the flying reptile with feathers called the Archaeopteryx, shows us. Additionally, some new fossils out of China show definite dinosaur skeletons with feather plumage!

Fossil of the Archaeopteryx. Do you see the feathers, the tail, and the shape of the head? Looks like a lizard-bird to me!

There are LOTS of articles about the comparison of some collagen protein found preserved inside the femur of a 68-million-year-old T. Rex skeleton in Montana and several modern animal species which asserts that Chickens and Ostriches are the closest living relatives to this class of dinosaur. There is also some similarities with Alligator proteins (not surprising…as they are another class of dinosaur themselves!). Read that article here if you like.

Want to know more? Here’s an interesting article from Scientific American about the evolution of Therapods (the group of dinosaurs that include the Velociraptor and T. Rex) into birds which tells you more, if you’re interested. Of course, science is always making new discoveries, and there’s still a LOT of gaps to fill before we have the full story. Isn’t science fascinating?

Fun Fact #2: There are smaller versions of most chicken breeds called Bantams.

You may have heard the word “Bantam chicken” tossed about in your research of chickens (because, who doesn’t like to read about them?). If you were a little confused on what that means, I can help you out.

A Bantam Chicken simply means “smaller chicken.” Bantam varieties have one of two origins. A True Bantam is a naturally smaller chicken. Most of the major breeds have a Bantam counterpart that is a fraction of the size. Then there are Miniature chickens which are bred to be smaller in size and weight, but have larger heads, tails, and eggs than true bantams. These Miniatures are often called Bantams as well. It’s generally accepted that either kind of bird is a Bantam.

Standard size hen (right) and a Bantam size hen (left).

Bantam breeds are fantastic if you want to have chickens, but don’t have a lot of space. Yes, they lay smaller eggs than standard chickens, but they also don’t eat as much or take up as much room! They are definitely a good choice for people with small city properties.

Fun Fact #3: Chickens See & Dream in Full Color, & are Highly Attracted to Red

Chickens have amazing eyesight – they see all the colors of the rainbow. Hens especially like the color red, and roosters take advantage of that attraction by sporting bright red combs and wattles for their mating dances, which are called “tidbitting”.

Here’s another visionary tidbit: You may not have known this, but chickens can dream, too. In full color. So the things they see in their world when they are awake, they might possibly see again when they sleep. I like to think that they dream of soaring like a frigate bird! Chickens have a phase of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement), just like we do. That’s when we humans dream too.

Who knew “Enter Sandman” was actually about sleeping chickens? (just kidding…sorta)

If you own chickens, you might observe another phase of their sleep patterns that we don’t share with our fluffy friends, and it’s called USWS, or Unihemispheric Slow Wave Sleep. If you’ve ever heard the term “sleeping with one eye open” – well, chickens can. It’s how they watch for predators while they catch some Zzz’s.

It’s actually one of the traits that has kept many bird species, like chickens, alive and thriving for so long. Did you know that there are 25 BILLION CHICKENS on the planet – nearly 4 times more than humans? They are by far the most prevalent bird in the world.

Fun Fact #4: A Hen Eats About 4 Pounds of Feed to Make 1 Dozen Eggs

This is an approximation, of course, for standard chicken breeds. Bantams eat way less. But it shows the importance of eating the right quantities of food to get the best egg production.

Broody hen sitting on eggs in a nest.

Chickens lay, on average, about one egg every 36-48 hours, except in times of stress, the molting period (when a chicken sheds feathers and makes new ones), or when a chicken goes “broody”.

A broody hen is a chicken dreaming of being a mom, like maternal instinct on overload. She turns the eggs about 300 times per day, and she talks to the eggs too – as they mature the chicks inside the shells chirp back to her (assuming the eggs are fertilized). During this time, a broody hen barely gets up to eat or drink. She’s dedicated!

Most egg farmers have to discourage the broody behavior to get the hens back to laying eggs, assuming there is no fertilized eggs for her to care for. But, if you have a rooster and want to hatch some chicks, a broody hen can be a great thing! Just put other fertilized eggs under her and she’ll take care of them too! Then the rest of your flock can continue to make breakfast for you while one works to hatch babies! By the way, they take about 21 days to hatch.

Fun Fact #5: The Color Eggs a Hen Lays Can Be Determined by the Color of the Earlobes

Hens are pretty predictable in their egg color if you know one simple trick:

Red Earlobes on a hen means she lays brown eggs. Some examples of brown-egg layers are: Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock

White Earlobes on a hen means she lays white and/or cream colored eggs. Some examples of white egg layers are: Leghorns and Polish. Cream colored egg layers are: Wyandottes and Silkies.

Blue/Green Earlobes on a hen means she is most likely an Easter egger and can lay Blue, Green, Rose, Lavender, or any of the other colors of eggs. Easter egg-colored egg layers are: Ameracaunas and Araucanas (both lay blue eggs), also mixed breeds called “Easter Eggers” who lay the other colors of eggs. The different colors are made when whites, browns, and blues are mixed together in the “shelling” process – this is a product of the mixed breeding.

This earlobe “rule” is a guideline only, so of course there are exceptions. But generally the above statements are true.

There are so many more fun facts about chickens. Why don’t you come learn how to keep and raise chickens with us? Our Chickens for Beginners class is Saturday, May 11, at 10 am. It will be about 90 minutes long, and you can have all your questions answered by me and our co-presenter, Kenny Coogan of Critter Companions!! Here’s the Facebook Event page for Chickens for Beginners workshop some more information.

It’s going to be an awesome class, I hope you’ll come join us!

Do you have your own fun facts about chickens? Add them in the comments below! Oh, and before I forget, you can always see what we have in stock in the Chicken Report that I post each Saturday.

See you again soon! Until then…

Marissa