My chickens disappeared last year without a trace. The hole flock didn't return one night and I never saw them again. I should tell you I live on .99 of and acre between nut orchards, and no fence. This spring I got 12 chickens, well it was suppose to be 12 hens, but ended up 11 hens and 1 roster. I have not let them out of the coop for fear of loosing them again. I have tried to spend time with them, so they will like me and not be so skittish when I am near. I felt I have done ok on this. They are fine with my presence, but not to thrilled when I pet them. They are about 6 months old now and recently I have started to let them out of the coop in the evening when I'm puttering around in the garden. At first they wouldn't even leave the coop. Eventually they came out and little by little they explore more of the yard. Sunday I let the chickens out after work. Usually once it is dark I go out and close the coop, to keep them safe. I forgot to close the coop. The next day I went out after work to feed them and make sure everyone was doing well, and I noticed Doris Day one of my Americana hens eating sitting down. I have never seen a chicken eat this way and was very concerned. I watched her intently for a while, trying to see if she had an injury or something. When she was done eating she got up, turned around walked up in front of me and stared at me. It was so funny, one good stair deserves another. I felt better, she seemed fine. Wednesday I again let the chickens out after work, (this seems to be working for us, they run around doing what chickens do for 1 to 4 hours, and I'm around to keep an eye on things, and its not enough time for them to be super destructive, and I kind of like the company. The dogs run off, so they have to stay in the front fenced area.) I was deadheading in the rose garden and they followed me in there and weren't causing much damage, so I let them be. Then I decided to take some pictures for the permies photo challenge. I had my phone trying to get a picture of the rooster, my arm was bent parallel with the ground and all of a sudden landing on my arm was Doris. She didn't stay long, but I thought it was funny, I guess we are friends now. You always hear how dumb chickens are, but I think they are smarter then they get credit for.
I think chickens are a combination of brilliant and dumb. A lot of the brilliant is probably genetic.
Brilliant things I've seen:
My chickens have never met another chicken since I got them as day olds. Somehow they learned the same language as all other chickens in the world. So an entire language is hard coded into them.
We had our flock pecking around in the orchard with us and a hen had some two week old chicks with her. The rooster made a sound we've never heard before and every chicken froze. And the chicks stopped peeping for the first time in their lives. All was silent for about 4 minutes until I went into the woods to scare off whatever they were looking at. How'd 2 week old chicks know that secret warning sound?
Rogue, one of our hens, knows when the missus is digging so she'll hang out to get worms. None of the other hens have figured that out yet.
They can somehow get into a circular chicken wire area that's fenced off to keep them out. Once in, they can't get out.
New chicks will try to go to mama but if she's around the corner of a chicken wire fence, they won't go around the corner to get to her, they'll peep at her from the closest point. That's not necessarily dumb, but mama hasn't figured it out to just poke her head back around the corner to teach them.
I'm sure there's more for both lists but that's all I can think of at the moment. Friendly hens are fun!
The permie formerly known as "Mike Jay"
"Hundreds of years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the type of car I drove... But the world may be different because I did something so bafflingly crazy that it becomes a tourist destination"
We've had chickens for longer than I can remember.
Without a doubt the breeds have different levels of intelligence, just like dogs.
The current seven were purchased as day-olds, so the only ones they've know are themselves and me.
Now they're a year old, and laying eggs like champions, the IQ is quite obvious - 3 x Australorp, 2 x Light Sussex, 2 x Wyandotte.
The Australorps are by far the most intelligent, friendly and easy to handle. Followed by the Wyandottes who are a bit flighty. The White Sussex are without a doubt the dumbest creatures I've had - though they are eating and laying machines, loveable, but oh so dumb! When all the others run along a fence line to access a gate, these are the ones that run a different way and get themselves lost - even though they were following the others!!
We had Leghorns decades ago - they were quite smart, similar to Wyandottes.
Regardless, I taught them all to follow orders - get off or away from vegetable gardens, go inside their pen (eventually!), etc. It's VERY important to treat them with kindness and patience, they will respond in kind by laying lots of eggs and making it easy to catch them - health checks, have a friendly chat.
It's a shame many people are so dismissive and often neglect them: exposing to the elements, suspect feeding regimes, 'forgetting' to keep them safe from predation, etc.
There's good reasons why, in Permaculture Principles, the humble chook is at the top of the pyramid and a major driver.
'Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.'