Chicken Rumors, Myths, and Facts
Want to Learn the Truth About Chickens?
I constantly see misinformation out there about chickens. Again and again, I see people repeating the same things about our feathered friends, and truly, some of the things people say make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
I'm here to tell you the truth and clear up common misconceptions. Listed below are some of the most common, most prevalent myths about chickens, along with the truth.
Many of the myths about chickens are false, but there are some myths that are true. In fact, one of the craziest myths about chickens — one of the ones that almost no one believes — happens to be true.
Check out the rumors, myths, and facts below, and if there's one you know of that I haven't listed, make sure to tell me in the guestbook so I can add it to this page.
1. Chickens Are Girls
Chickens are not just females!
Chickens are not a sex, they are a type of bird. They are a subspecies of the genus Gallus, known as Gallus gallus domesticus, and to have a self-perpetuating species, you have to have both males and females. If all chickens were females, there would be no more chickens since they couldn't produce any more.
To make it easier to describe them, we call female chickens hens or pullets and male chickens are called cocks, cockerels or roosters, but they are all chickens.
In the picture above, those are all chickens (even the big one in the middle).
2. Roosters Are All Mean
Though there are mean roosters, and mean hens for that matter, there are actually lots of sweet roosters as well.
Many people have roosters that care for their hens, showing them what to eat, finding nice little tidbits for them, and protecting them from harm, but some people have roosters that will also take care of the chicks, letting them walk on him, keeping them warm and cozy under his bum, and just generally being a daddy to them.
Some roosters aren't just gentle to the other chickens though, some roosters are actually sweet human friends as well. Lots of people have had pet roosters, roosters that rode with them on their bikes, met them at the door when they got home from school, and roosters that are practically dog-like.
Though some roosters may be mean, other roosters can be kind and sweet.
That rooster in the picture to the right was so sweet and loved to get cuddles, even though he was huge and came up to my knee.
3. Hens can't lay eggs without a rooster
Hens do not need a male around to lay eggs.
Just as with human females, releasing an egg and having a period, female chickens do not need a rooster to produce an egg.
It happens whether or not there is a male around, the only difference is that it won't be fertilized if there is no male.
Many people don't even have roosters since they get eggs from hens and they don't want to waste feed on a boy.
The hen on the right would have laid all those eggs, even if she didn't have a rooster around.
4. We don't know if the egg or the chicken came first.
Though this is a philosphoical question more than a real one, we do know which came first.
Chickens have been genetically traced back to Jungle Fowl or Gallus gallus, a type of bird that lives in Asia and is classified as a pheasant but can still interbreed with some chickens, similar to how a dog and wolf are.
At some point, a genetic mutation occurred inside a Jungle Fowl hen when the rooster's genes and the hen's genes mixed. When the hen laid the fertilized egg, instead of a Jungle Fowl, the egg produced a chicken.
There is still debate over which Jungle Fowl variety chickens actually came from. Most believe it to be the Red type of Jungle Fowl, but there are several varieties and all are closely related.
5. Chickens Can Change Sex
Well, sort of.
Chickens have been known to switch from being a boy to being a girl, and the much more common, switching from being a girl to being a boy. Just the traits alter though.
Roosters can start to act like a hen, allowing the other roosters to mate with them and trying to hatch eggs.
Hens may start crowing, grow spurs, grow rooster feathers, and start taking care of the flock as well as mating with the other hens.
This is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance usually caused by a disease or the hen getting an injury to her ovaries, causing a malfunction. It may also relate to flock dynamics since it primarily happens in a single-sex flock, like those of people who just have hens to lay eggs. The flock doesn't have a rooster, so one of the hens becomes one.
This doesn't happen all the time, in fact it doesn't even happen a large amount of the time, but many people have had or know of a person who's had a chicken that switched sexes.
It is believed that the chickens do not really change sex though, that the roosters can't suddenly lay eggs, or the hens fertilize them, but there have been undocumented cases where people say they have had that happen to them.
Generally though, most hensters (hens that turn into males) just fill the role of rooster. The chicken may be both genders as well, so may not just be a cock or hen.
6. Chickens Are Stupid
There are some really stupid chickens. In fact, I've had chickens that were just about as stupid as they get. But not all chickens are stupid.
Similar to how wild sheep are much more intelligent than domesticated sheep, the more wild the chicken breeds are, the more intelligent the chickens typically are. Nature tends to weed out stupidity. Any animal that is not intelligent enough to survive gets eaten or can't find enough to eat or dies some other way, and so can't reproduce and pass on its genes to offspring.
That's what happens in nature, but when we step in, things change. Instead of having to fight for survival, we protect the animals, and select not the most intelligent or best animals to mate, but instead the best egg-laying or meat producing. Over time this has created breeds that lay incredible amounts of eggs compared to what they would have naturally laid and also has created breeds whose only point in life is to gain as much weight as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Obviously, the people breeding to develop for egg-laying ability or to gain weight weren't breeding for intelligence, they were breeding for other traits and intelligence falls by the wayside.
Thus, some chicken breeds are not as intelligent as others, but there are some breeds that are fairly intelligent. The old barnyard fowl type of chicken tends to be much more wilely than breeds that have been heavily bred to one type.
Some people teach their chickens tricks, chickens can problem solve, and chickens can even recognize each other, which if you've ever had to try to differentiate between different chickens of the same breed you have realized is incredibly difficult.
7. Hens lay eggs all the time.
Egg-laying is actually seasonal.
In the wild, chickens typically laid eggs mainly in the Spring, with some possibly laying until mid-Summer, but it was not a year-around activity since it needs to be the right temperature for the chicks to survive and the chicks couldn't be raised without enough food.
We have modified this behavior quite a bit by only breeding the hens that lay more eggs and ones that lay earlier in the Spring and later into Fall, but the hens still tend to stick to their natural tendencies, so they stop laying when it's really cold out and when it's really hot out.
The temperature does affect them, but we have figured out that that's not what usually causes the hens to not lay year-around. Yes it is connected to the time of year, but their bodies register the different times of year by the amounts of sunlight. As the days start to get longer, the chickens start laying and as long as it doesn't get really hot, they'll continue laying at a lower amount into Fall.
Since we know that, we have learned to simulate Spring day lengths all year around by turning on lights as the days start to shorten, and making the chickens' body clocks think the season isn't changing.
The constant stress of egg-laying at Spring-levels dramatically lowers the hens' length of life, but since almost all of the big egg companies kill their hens when very young anyway, it doesn't matter to them.
8. Chickens are all the same
Chickens come in all sorts of different sizes, types, and personalities.
There are big chickens, small ones, fast ones, slow ones. There are smart chickens, and stupid chickens. Ones with feathers on their feet, and others without.
Chickens in every shape and color and temperament.
If you even have two chickens, you will realize their personalities can widely vary. They are anything but identical.
9. Roosters are the ones with the spurs
Actually, hens and roosters can both have spurs.
Spurs are related to sex, but they are also related to breed. Some breeds tend to have spurs on both males and females and others tend to only have spurs on the males.
It's much more common to have spurs on the roosters, and not on the hens, but hens of breeds such as the games and Sumatra breed are well-known for occasionally having spurs, though others can have them too.
All chickens have a little budding spur nub on each of their legs, but typically it's only the male that has them develop.
10. Roosters are the chickens that crow
Both hens and roosters can crow.
Though not every hen will crow and almost every rooster will, it is not that uncommon to have a crowing hen.
Some chickens are more sexually ambiguous than other chickens. There are lots of roosters that act more like hens and there are lots of cases where hens act more like roosters.
Typically, when there is an even ratio of males and females, the hens usually act like hens and the roosters usually act like roosters. But if there is no hen, often a rooster will fall into that role.
Similarly, if there is no rooster, or the rooster tends to not be dominant enough, a hen will take over the rooster's role, watching out for the flock and crowing to proclaim the flock's territory.
11. They sell chicken saddles
They do sell chicken saddles.
No, chicken saddles are not for tiny chicken-riding jockeys. Chicken saddles are a protector for the backs of hens to prevent a rooster from scrapping them raw with his claws as they mate.
Not all roosters will hurt their hens, but it's not uncommon for a rooster with too few hens or that likes one hen especially to eventually scrape all the feathers off of a hen's back and shoulders. Once the feathers are gone, if one or the other isn't removed from the pen, the rooster might tear right through the hen's skin and cut her open.
To prevent this from happening or to allow the feathers to grow back, a hen might wear a chicken saddle, a piece of cloth designed to not easily slip off, that will take the burnt of the rooster's claws instead of her.
12. Chickens are barnyard animals, not pets
Chickens may usually live in the barnyard, but they actually make very nice pets.
Whether living in the house as a regular house pet, or living outside, chickens can become very friendly if they are regularly handled. And their inquisitive and distinct personalities make them fun to be around. Many people like to just sit and enjoy their chickens' company.
People who don't have chickens or don't hang out with them much may not realize how enjoyable it is to have a friendly feathered friend.
13. Chickens Can Wear Diapers and Live in the House
It's true, there are chickens that wear diapers and live in the house as house pets.
It's getting more common, but many people remember their grandparents having a house chicken too.
Sometimes there is just one of the bunch that for some reason can't live with the rest of the flock or simply refuses to stay out with the chickens and wants to be around people instead. It's very similar to when people have barn cats and one of them takes up residence in the house.
Chickens make excellent house pets, they're friendly and fun to be around, and usually handle being in the house better than dogs do.
The only problem in times past was that chooks couldn't be house trained. Like many pet birds they would go wherever they were, but after someone invented covers for parrots, someone thought why not make diapers for chicken bottoms? So, chicken poo is no longer a problem.
14. Chickens Are Vegetarians
Chickens are omnivores and will eat just about everything.
Having too much non-nutritious food isn't good for them, they still need a balanced diet, but most people supplement their chickens' diets with table scraps, and some people do include meat.
Chickens adore bugs, spiders, lizards, and are even frequently spotted chasing and gobbling down rodents. Meat of all sorts seems to be popular with them.
Chickens are descended from dinosaurs, and seem to retain quite a few characteristics from those days, many of which are evident the moment a flock spots a mouse and turns into what looks like a pack of velociraptors.
15. Eggs All Taste the Same
Flavors come through in the egg depending on what the chickens eat and this can make the eggs taste different.
Most people only get to eat eggs from chickens all raised the same way and all fed basically the same feed, so don't realize that the eggs can vary in taste.
Homegrown chicken eggs though, come from chickens in different situations, eating different things, so their eggs will taste much different from the factory chickens' and even different from each other since most chicken owners tend to feed household scraps, the chickens can eat a variety of grasses and other plants, and even eat bugs and mice and snakes.
The eggs will also get flavored differently if the owner feeds garlic or fish to their chickens, so most people recommend against feeding them that, though some people still feed the chickens garlic for health reasons.
Most people who have had homegrown eggs love them because they taste so much better.
16. Chickens Will Kill Each Other
Chickens can be vicious. If not raised correctly, chickens will kill each other.
If chickens sense another chicken is weak, or if it has blood on it, the more aggressive chickens will peck it death. This makes the flock healthier overall since any illness is stamped out quickly and it saves the food for the birds that are going to do well at producing offspring.
Most people avoid situations like this by always allowing the chickens plenty of space so they don't feel crowded in their coop and which also allows space for the weaker members to escape the ravages of the more aggressive birds.
Since chickens are territorial, adding new birds to the flock needs to be done carefully, especially small chicks since they have no defenses and are easily killed by the other chickens when brought into the coop. Typically chicks raised with their mother in the coop merge well with the flock as they grow up, but chicks raised inside the house or purchased from another place will be killed extremely fast if just placed in the coop with the rest of the flock.
Roosters without enough hens and separate territory will also kill each other occasionally.
Flock dynamics vary widely, and some breeds are more aggressive than others, so it's important to learn about chickens before getting them.
17. Chickens will eat each other
Chickens will eat just about anything, including each other.
If a chicken happens to die and the body is not disposed of, the other chickens may have a gruesome meal. Usually if they are fed enough protein they won't eat other, but they just might anyway.
Also, chickens are well-known for pulling and eating feathers off of each other if they don't get enough protein, and this may progress into eating more than just feathers if not taken care of.
Most egg-factories partially cut off the beaks of their hens to prevent them from damaging each other in the small pens that they are packed in.
18. Brown eggs are healthier for you
The color of the egg's shell has nothing to do with its nutrient content.
An egg's shell color is just that, a color, meaning nothing but that a breed of chicken that lays that color egg happened to lay that egg.
This isn't a rumor that is just confined to brown eggs either, there are lots of people who don't believe the rumors about brown eggs, but still claim green or blue eggs have lower cholesterol.
The only difference in nutritional content might arise because of how the hens that laid the eggs were raised.
Hens who eat a more natural diet lay eggs that are healthier for us to eat, and often we only get brown, blue, green, and other than white colored eggs from non-commercial egg sources which means they might have had a more natural diet and the eggs will be healthier.
But that does not mean the eggs are healthier simply for having a different color shell.
19. Eggs only come in brown and white
Eggs actually come in lots of different colors and even the brown and white ones aren't just always the same colors of brown and white.
There are light, almost white brown eggs, deep chocolate colored brown eggs, chalky white eggs, creamy white eggs, sky blue eggs, olive green eggs, rich purplish brown eggs, mint green colored eggs, and even pink eggs.
20. Eggs are bad for you
Eggs are actually one of the healthiest foods on the planet, depending on how the hens that laid them were raised.
Hens fed poor, unnatural diets have poor-quality, unhealthy eggs, but hens that eat a good diet including lots of green grass and other living plants, have eggs rich in vitamins and minerals. Though they may have some cholesterol, it's primarily the good type of cholesterol that actually helps lower your overall cholesterol levels.
Eggs are designed to be consumed by the baby chicks as they grow, to give them a good start in life and to grow up and be healthy, and to do that the eggs need to be as nutritious as the hen can make them.
Did you learn a bit more? Have a poultry myth or rumor that you'd like to know the truth about? Leave a comment below and let me know, even if it's only to let me know you stopped by.
© 2009 Alisha Vargas