Rhapsodical78 (rhapsodical78) wrote in animal_studies,

Ducks, pigs and chickens. Intelligence and other facts.

Browsing through the http://www.goveg.com/ site, I came across a few interesting facts about farm animals of which I was previously unaware. I was particularly taken with the research conducted on chickens which indicates they have both culture and high intelligence.

I've pulled out a few random paragraphs which I found interesting for the link shy or those who don't want to read entire articles, but there is much more info at the links provided. It's still rather long, so I've cut it to save teh flist.


Leading animal behavior scientists from across the globe now tell us that chickens are inquisitive and interesting animals whose cognitive abilities are more advanced than those of cats, dogs, and even some primates. Chickens understand sophisticated intellectual concepts, learn from watching each other, demonstrate self-control, worry about the future, and even have cultural knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. Dr. Chris Evans, who studies animal behavior and communication at Macquarie University in Australia, says, “As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.

And on the next page:

Chickens are social animals who form complex social hierarchies and interact in complex ways that are indicative of what anthropologists call “culture.” For example, researchers have shown that chickens learn from observing the success and failure of others in their community. One experiment that demonstrated this finding involved teaching one group of chickens to peck red and green buttons a certain number of times to obtain a food reward. Researchers were surprised to find that when a new group of chickens watched those who had learned how to push the buttons for food, the new chickens quickly caught on by watching the others.

Researchers have also found that chickens have a cultural knowledge that they pass down from generation to generation. John Webster, a professor at Bristol University in the U.K., set up a study in which he gave chickens a mixture of yellow and blue kernels of corn. The blue kernels were tainted with chemicals that made the birds feel sick, and they quickly learned to avoid the blue corn entirely (this is also another example of their understanding of cause and effect).

When the chickens in Webster’s study had their young, he spread yellow and blue corn around the farm, and even though he made it so that both types were harmless, the mother hens remembered that the blue corn had previously made them sick, and they steered their young away from it.

And on the next page:

Chickens communicate with each other through their “clucks”—Mench explains, “They have more than thirty types of vocalizations.”19 They have different calls to distinguish between threats that are approaching by land and those that are approaching over water, and a mother hen begins to teach these calls to her chicks before they even hatch—she clucks softly to them while sitting on the eggs, and they chirp back to her and to each other from inside their shells.


Like dogs, piglets learn their names by 2 to 3 weeks of age and respond when called.

Pigs prefer water to mud. One woman developed a shower for her pigs, and these astute animals learned to turn it on and off.

Pigs appear to have a good sense of direction and have found their way home over great distances. Adults can run at speeds of up to 11 miles an hour.

Like dogs, pigs have done many heroic deeds. Babe’s real-life counterparts have rescued human and nonhuman companions, stopped intruders in their tracks, and even saved themselves from slaughterhouses. In addition to the previously mentioned piglet Pru, who dragged her human companion from a muddy bog, there is also Priscilla, who saved a young boy from drowning; Spammy, who led firefighters to a burning shed to save her calf friend Spot; and Lulu, who found help for her human companion who had collapsed from a heart attack. A pig named Tunia chased away an intruder, and another named Mona held a fleeing suspect’s leg until the police arrived. A pig in New Jersey jumped off a truck en route to the slaughterhouse, while in England, a stone carving of a pig named Butch was placed upon a historic cathedral after Butch and his friend Sundance escaped from a slaughterhouse and roamed the country for several days before being captured. Fortunately, a national outcry against slaughter allowed Butch and Sundance to go to a sanctuary.

And on the next page:

Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University found that pigs play and excel at joystick-controlled video games. He observed that they are “capable of abstract representation” and “are able to hold an icon in the mind and remember it at a later date.” Pigs are much smarter than dogs, according to the research, and even did better at video games than some primates. Says Dr. Sarah Boysen, Curtis’ colleague, “[Pigs] are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp.”

. . . And Dr. Mike Mendyl notes that pigs can signal their competitive strength and “use this information to minimize overt aggression during disputes about social ranks,” just like many primates (including humans). He explains that “pigs can develop quite sophisticated social competitive behavior, similar to that seen in some primate species.”

Pigs communicate constantly with one another. More than 20 of their oinks, grunts, and squeals have been identified for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing, “I’m hungry!”

Pigs have a very long memory. Dr. Curtis put a ball, a Frisbee, and a dumbbell in front of several pigs and was able to teach them to jump over, sit next to, or fetch any of the objects when asked to and they could distinguish between the objects three years later.

Scientists at the University of Illinois have learned that not only do pigs have temperature preferences, they also will learn through trial and error how to turn on the heat in a cold barn if given the chance and turn it off again when they are too warm.

Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs sing to their young while nursing.


Ducks use vocalizations and body language to communicate. Researchers at Middlesex University in Britain recently reported that ducks even have regional accents, just like humans! These scientists found that city ducks have more of a “shouting” quack so that other ducks can hear them above the hustle and bustle, while country ducks have softer, smoother voices.
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