Entertaining, Yes. Smart, No
I know a lot of folks love their chickens and think they’re smarter than we give them credit for. Sure, they’re entertaining creatures and I get kick out of watching them run raptor-style across the pasture, scratch contentedly in the compost, and chase butterflies in the sunshine. It’s fun to have chickens. But I won’t be slapping any ‘My Chicken is Smarter than Your Honor Student’ bumper stickers on my car anytime soon.
Case in Point…
I raised a batch of 30 Cornish X hybrid meat chickens this spring. I have to say that they’ve got to be the worlds dumbest chickens. The eat until their crop is overflowing and food is coming out of their mouths. I’ve witnessed them laying in their own poo when I put down fresh straw inches away. They sleep in their food dish, on their food…which they also poop in (it’s a chicken thing). They just are not the sharpest tools in the shed. My neighbors call them the ‘loony birds.’ However, they are very tasty with BBQ sauce.
It really shouldn’t surprise me that one of my meat chickens almost died of stupidity.
Out of the 30 Cornish I raised, there was one little runt that never kept up with the rest of the flock. That little pullet was about half the size of the others when butchering time came around in June. I decided to put off her demise and wait to see if she would put on enough bulk to butcher. As she slowly increased in size I hatched what may be a hare brained idea. Why not keep this little bird and see if she lays eggs? I have a nice rooster and perhaps the cross would produce some dual purpose birds that reach a nice butchering size earlier than your typical heritage breed. Sounds like a plan. Plus it’s too darn hot right now to butcher a chicken. So her little chicken life has been spared.
All was well until one day the little meat pullet came up missing. I suspected a fox or a hawk had snatched away my dream of raising the perfect dual purpose bird (probably a pie in the sky dream anyway). You get used to having your chickens disappear or die occasionally. Such is life on a homestead.
Life Goes On…
The rest of chickens went on with life as if nothing happened…which is what I expected. They aren’t sentimental creatures. The temps started climbing up into the 90s. Fans are set up in the coop to keep the air moving and the heat down. At the end of a particularly warm day I stopped to brush the dust off one of the fans. As I cleaned the fan I noticed an upside down metal feed pan started to move like it was possessed, maybe by a ‘poultrygeist’ I mused. Realistically, I suspected mice and wasn’t crazy about checking under the pan. It had been upside down for several days and I kept thinking “I need to take that pan out and clean it.” But that was as far as I got.
When I lifted the pan, what flopped out? The missing meat pullet! It surprised the heck out of me since I was expecting mice. She was dirty and wobbly and obviously in rough shape after spending 3 days trapped under a food dish. I picked her up and set her next to the water dish. She drank and drank as she wobbled on her weak little legs. I felt awful that I didn’t pick the pan up sooner. But seriously folks, that pan is not heavy…not heavy enough to trap a chicken! I can’t figure out how this chicken could be so stupid that it didn’t push under the side of the pan to escape. Perhaps she won’t be adding the best genetic material to my flock after all.
That addled bird taught me a lesson…don’t leave food pans upside down in the chicken coop. There just might be a dumb bird trapped underneath. So far this little bird takes the prize for the dumbest chicken I’ve ever raised.
Update: I did raise this pullet to egg bearing age, and she actually produced eggs quite well for a few months. However, I was not successful in hatching any of her eggs. She spent a lot of her time sitting next to the food stuffing her beak, so I would not reccomend keeping a Cornish Cross pullet for efficient egg production. Yo can read more about this experience in my post Can You Keep Cornish X Chickens as Laying Hens?