What are the chickens in this photo doing? And why are they all bunched up together, I hear you ask?
Well, chickens are by nature social animals; they live in flocks.
In the wild, or in a backyard situation, this flocking behaviour provides individual birds with protection from predators and also allows them to keep warm (particularly important for baby chicks up until the age that they develop their proper feathers).
On commercial meat chicken farms, the barns that chickens are housed in provide them with protection from predation, and are equipped with heaters and ventilation systems to manage the environment at the ideal temperatures for their age at any point in time. Nevertheless, chickens continue to exhibit a comprehensive range of social behaviours relevant to their age
Their desire for social contact is perhaps most noticeable when they are resting – as many of the baby chicks in this photo are – when ‘clumps’ of resting chickens can clearly be seen throughout their barn.
However, this behaviour can also be used by farmers to monitor whether their chickens are comfortable. Too much clumping together, particularly if it is concentrated in the middle of the barn, could mean that the chickens are too cold; not enough clumping together could mean that the environment in the barn is too hot. Concentration of chickens around the walls of the barn can often mean that the temperature in the barn is too hot, as it is usually the case that it is cooler along the walls of the barn. Avoidance of certain parts of the barn floor could mean that the bedding in some parts of the barn isn’t ideal. All of these signs are used by farmers to monitor the ‘comfort level’ of their flock and to take action accordingly. Ideally, small groups of chickens should be evenly distributed across the floor of the entire barn.
So, what can this photo tell us about how comfortable these chickens are?
Let’s pan out and see:
By the way, did you wonder what the plastic chain is in the top photo? It’s there to provide something for the chicks to peck at, if they are interested.
If you are interested to learn more about the behaviours that chickens display on commercial chicken farms, and how farmers use chicken behaviour to monitor the health and welfare of their flocks, then have a look (and a listen!) to our previous blog at http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/meat-chicken-behaviour-how-do-farmers-use-it/