Are Chickens Really Dumb?

You've heard that chickens are dumb, right? 


Well, over the past 8 years of raising chickens, I can attest that they are actually quite smart. Granted, they have their "moments" that they do things that make you think they're dumb. But, overall, when you take time to observe their behaviors, they display more intelligence or, at least, smarter instincts than what we've been told for so long. I have many stories that hopefully I'll be able to share with you, but today, this one features the Appenzeller Spitzhauben breed.

This past May I bought 2 Spitzhauben hens at the BYC "members-only" Chickenstock. One was broody & came with "dummy" eggs. (a whole other story)
Even though I didn't NEED any more hens, this is how chicken math works.
Plus, I did find homes for some of my chickens at Chickenstock, so in the end,
I still had less chickens!

 
Above - the one hen in pasture pen; 
below - broody hen sitting on eggs

They are both gorgeous hens, active foragers, winter hardy & food efficient.
Plus, they lay white eggs, which is not a color I had in my flock.
So, I thought they'd be a great addition, plus would add extra genetic diversity to my 
Catskill Homesteader Chickens. Their personality so far is friendly, yet spunky & independent.

 

 Fast forward to the end of October when I moved the adult hens and rooster out of the "Truck Cap Coop" to make room for the young stock I'm growing out. However, I did leave 2 broody hens who were still caring for their chicks. A few days later, I noticed one of the Spitzhauben hens pacing the 4' fence, trying to find a way back to the "Truck Cap Coop". That night, she was among the young chickens, happy to be "home" again. I let her be. Next night, her "sister" joined her.
I thought, "Ok, so now's there's 4 adults among the young stock, but I can make an exception."
 I knew they'd just keep flying over the fencing & returning.
Time passed.
 One morning, I was greeted by a Spitz hens & a pullet outside the coop,
before I had opened up the door.
That night as I was closing up the coops, I didn't see either Spitzhauben.
I searched high & low, even in the nearby pine tree, but I couldn't find them.
Thoughts ran through my mind, "Did they escape or fly over the fence? Did a predator get them? Where could they be?" When they couldn't be found,I said a prayer, "Lord, You know where those hens are, please protect them and bring them safely back home. You know, I'd hate to lose those hens."
 The next morning, like clockwork, the hens "showed up" out of nowhere.
I knew I had to find their "secret" hiding spot.

One morning in early November, Mom called me into her bedroom and said, "Look what I found!" There high up in the pine tree were the two Spitzhauben hens, like at least 10-12 feet off the ground!




Crazy chickens! They wanted to eat the higher protein chick's food,
but not have to sleep with all the "rowdy kids"! They didn't even stop there,
but also started to teach a few young pullets how to do it also!


But, sometimes, when they came down out of the tree, they landed in the aviary netting, and I had to help them out. This beautiful pullet was one I did not want to lose, but she kept roosting in the tree!

 

I kept trying to get those hens to roost inside the coop, but oh, no they were set on roosting in the pine tree. At first, I couldn't figure out how they were getting up there. Over the next day or two, I was able to catch them & trim one wing, hoping that would deter them or
at least keep them low enough I could catch them. Nope. Still just as high.
 Finally, I realized that although I had put aviary & bird netting near the pine tree, the exposed tree branches were strategically placed, so they could just "hop" from branch to branch! While the decision to roost outside wasn't "smart" because of the risk of predators, they "out-smarted" me the human by figuring out how to get high up in the tree way before I even realized it was "possible" for them to do so.


That is until November 8th, when Mom & I worked together to bring the aviary netting together & add extra bird netting. Our hope was to deter them from going so high we couldn't reach them, while still providing them a place to roost during the day. That required quite a bit of work, as the netting kept snagging on the pine bows, and we had to cut/break off dead branches that were in the way. At one point, I had to stand on one cut-off branch, hold onto the tree with my one hand, while pulling the aviary netting through the branches to connect with the other netting. Whew! Not an easy job, but I knew if it worked, it'd be worth it. All while we were working, the hens kept "checking us out", cocking their heads to look at us & chatting among themselves. It reminded us of the movie "Chicken Run" - where the chickens were constantly plotting how to escape!



That night, the two mischievous hens were still not in the coop.
Sure enough, they were roosting in the tree again!



But, this time, I only had to climb up one branch, pick them up & carefully get back down & take them back to the coop.



The following night, only one hen was in the tree.





The next night, both were back in the coop! Success! (For now, anyways! 😄)

So, what are your thoughts? Are chickens really dumb? Do you have any stories to tell?