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7 February 2013
Blogger Denigrates Chickens: Please
Write a Polite Letter to Him.

In a blog titled “Chicken Visit” this month, Jon Katz of Bedlam Farm Journal belittled chickens by calling them “dumber” than those who prey on them. Please if you have chicken companions, send a thoughtful message in your own words to Mr. Katz at blog@bedlamfarm.com.

Here is what he wrote: http://www.bedlamfarm.com/2013/02/04/chicken-visit/.

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UPC president Karen Davis wrote to Mr. Katz today:

To: Jon Katz, Bedlam Farm Journal <blog@bedlamfarm.com>
From: Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns
Re: http://www.bedlamfarm.com/2013/02/04/chicken-visit/

Dear Mr. Katz,

In your recent blog, “Chicken Visit,” you called chickens dumber than their predators. (“Everything on earth wants to eat them, and they are dumber than all of them.”) Your characterization of chickens is unjust. Modern avian science discredits the view of chickens as stupid. In The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken, Dr. Lesley J. Rogers writes, for example: “With increased knowledge of the behaviour and cognitive abilities of the chicken has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source” (1995, p. 213).

The view that mammalian brains are superior to avian brains, or that small things can’t be intelligent or aware, is no longer credible. Though the neuroanatomy of mammals and birds diverged during evolution, their (our) mental development is convergent. The cortical cells of mammals developed on the surface of the brain while homologous cells in birds were retained deeper within the cortex.

Having kept chickens in rural areas since 1985, I’m familiar with their response to predators. There is nothing “dumb” – either stupid or mute – in their reaction to the sudden appearance of a raccoon, a fox, or a hawk. Our roosters and hens make a huge commotion. They flee the open spaces of the yard and take refuge in the fenced-in wooded areas surrounding the yard. They clamor loudly and hide for a very long time. They protect themselves in the foliage as best they can; if a fox appears, those who are able fly up to branches.

Chickens have lived successfully in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, raising their families and negotiating complex environments for thousands of years. That they have failed to protect themselves from human predators does not make them stupid. This is the misfortune of most nonhuman animals on the planet.

The anatomy and neurophysiology of chickens evolved to make them runners. Nature designed chickens to run away from predators. There is nothing “dumb” or cowardly about it. The fact that we have afflicted chickens with physical debilities, alien to their native endowments, which can prevent them from fully exercising their innate cognitive skills, does not make them “dumb.” The ability of hens and roosters to quickly shield their family from predators by spreading their wings and pushing the family, which remains still and silent, behind them, while fighting off the predator, shows that chickens evolved to react quickly, vigorously, and intelligently when the need arises.

I respectfully urge you to respect the animals in your care including how you speak about them. There is no excuse to incite mean attitudes toward chickens in your readers. I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Office: 757-678-7875
Email: Karen@upc-online.org
Website: http://www.upc-online.org

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