Know your different types of chickens for choosing the right chicken breed to raise. Some chickens are louder than others or feistier than others, and some just look better. What type of chicken are you looking for?
You are reading Chapter 2 of our Homestead Handbook:
Types of Chickens
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The type of chicken you decide to bring home will be one you expect to match your needs and surroundings. If you are cautious of your neighbor, for example, you will be likely to avoid breeds that are loud and likely to travel outside your property. Most neighbors will not be a bother as long as they can sleep at night. Large chicken have a deep crowing sound that is not carried well over distance. They would a make a good choice for people who want chicken who make a low level of noise. Smaller breeds carry a sharp, high-pitched sound that people can hear from quite a distance. Characteristics a breed possesses are often innate, and training may not work on qualities that are genetically instilled. If you want a house chicken as a pet, make sure to be wary of the breeds that are known to be aggressive. It would be ridiculous if you simply wanted to go walk around your property and had to deal with your chicken constantly flying in your face, challenging you. Imagine if you merely had to bend down to pick something up or water your flowers where your behind is the victim of a rear attack. That’s no fun; it would hurt too. A mean cock is more typical than a hen, and if you notice you have a breed that is reluctant to behave, my advice would be to let them go before anything serious happens. If not, who knows, you could very well experience Miley Cyrus’s “I can’t be tamed” from your chicken firsthand. If space was not a factor in getting a pet I would suggest owning a large, heavy breed such as the Jersey Giant is lovely to consider. If you are in a tighter area, I would say the Serama or Cochin make ideal pets. The size of a bird is a good indicator if they are the broody type. Larger breeds often will prefer to hatch their eggs whereas those that are lighter will not. So if you are keen in owning a chicken for hatching, the Aseel and Silkie are ideal. These beauties have such darling mother instincts that they will even hatch eggs that are not their own. Broody birds would not work for owners who want them to lay eggs periodically. They will spend nearly a month of their time warming their eggs after they hatch them. The Minorca or Leghorn are rarely broody and can supply you with as much as 300 eggs year. Modern chicken today all originated from jungle fowl and still possess the same instincts, but lost certain others. Also, like humans, chickens have their distinct personality and characteristics. Whether you raise them as a chick or full-fledged adult, you will be in for a surprise to see none of them will think or behave in the same manner. Every chicken has an individualistic tone they make which becomes distinct enough for you to recognize if you listen closely.
2.1 – Understanding their language, personality, and characteristics
Chicken sounds seem to be nothing more than noise to most people who do not understand it. Every sound holds some meaning as that is how they speak their emotions between the flock and humans. The more you hang around them, the more you notice specific sounds when they are unsure of something, afraid, happy and many other feelings. A German Physician by the name of Erich Baeumer stated that there thirty different sounds a chicken will use. He has been studying birds since 1954 and said at the age of eight, he had no problem understanding the chicken in his house. Baeumer was able to imitate their calls so perfectly that the flock even accepted him in the group. Various countries listen to his chick talk tape that explains each sound in detail. He expressed when chicken feel as if they are in danger they make a frightened cackle. When the danger is over, the cackling sound becomes more rhythmical and upbeat as if to show they won. Another chicken enthusiast, Chris Evans from Australia, explained the emotions expressed by the sounds are a system like that of the human language in three instances. Sounds will be made to signal certain environmental event such as finding a meal, the ability to differentiate specific sounds and creating sounds for the benefit of other like breeds. Chicken have a pretty short vocabulary list however, and their language will never equate that of a human.
Even the cute little chicks can talk too, way before they hatch from their egg! The pleasure peep is most common and is soft and irregular in tone. Chicks keep in communication with their mother by letting them know they are present. The pleasure trill, as the name denotes, shows they feel safe, happy, are nestling or located food. It translates as “life is great”. The panic peep is a loud peep where they are expressing for help if they are lost or afraid. The startled peep signifies “whoa” and is a sharp sound expressed when they are surprised or startled by something. Birds use distress peep when they feel terrible like from starving or freezing.
While the chick is still in the egg, the mother will acknowledge its offspring and the chick will learn their mother’s sound early on. The mother will use three ways to communicate with the chick during the time it does hatch. The mother will often cluck while ruffling her feathers as a way to let her chicks know to remain near her or follow her. Clucking is short, repetitive and low-pitched while food call is the high-pitched rapid sound made when the mother finds something good for them to eat. Usually, the mothers have a sample of the food from the floor, picks then break the large bits to bite-sized pieces for the chicks. The hush sound is a soft, vibrating sound made to alert the chicks if something isn’t safe. While they are young, they will often decide to take shelter under their mother’s wings, and it means she wants them to remain still. Chicken are very protective of their offspring even while they are still eggs. The laying cackle is a repetitive sound made to bring attention to someone, often a predator, and follow her instead while she moves away from the nest. The broody hiss is intended to leer someone away from her nest and often occurs while she is guarding them. The broody howl in more intense in sound compared to the hiss and means the hen is warning you not to mess with her. The hen will also begin to ruffle her feathers and will peck when she deems it necessary. I mentioned earlier that chicken are highly social creatures. Social sounds are also used to ensure the flock sticks together especially during times of danger. An alarm cackle is a persistent cautious call that involves informing your flock of danger or object in your path. A Contentment calls are the low-pitched sound when they feel safe or want to express they want their group to stick together. Chicken make an air raid, a loud cry, when there is also something or someone is in their way while flying and means to take cover. Roosting is another low-pitched sound often heard during nightfall as a hen or flock is preparing to sleep for the night.
2.2 – Order of Hierarchy
Although birds enjoy being in groups, it’s not all flowers and roses between them. Chicken also have a sense of dominance and will try to prove it even with people. It is beneficial to be aware of signs where and when they show it. The frequency that a bird often crows displays how confident they feel. The long crowers are even known to keep at it for a lengthy period while standing upright. It is often the male roosters crow for about 30 seconds. If a hen begins to crow it is not usual and they may start to do it if they are experiencing pain, are extremely sick or is at an advanced age. If you want to own a chicken, especially a male, but are concerned about the noise you would be curious about ways to minimize it. Although there is no foolproof method to halt them from crowing, there are some methods you can try to lower the sounds. Crows need to extend their necks to crow so if you place them in a cage that restricts them from fully stretching their neck; it will prevent them from crowing. They do not like staying in a contained space too long though so it’s also good allowing them to roam freely during feasible times so they can ‘let it all out’. If they are living in a small shelter outside, make sure to close any window or doors and remove as many lights as you can during nightfall. Playing music will also keep them distracted while they attempt to locate and figure out the source of the sound. By the time a chicken reaches six weeks old in a flock, fights are done to establish a hierarchy. This is known as the pecking order where a leader is decided, and there is of each between males, females, and both sexes. From time to time challenges are made from those of lower rank towards the leader. Rank also has an effect on mating: dominate males mate more compared to the lower ranks and dominate females mate less over their more submissive opposites. Fights often occur, so you have to find ways to keep the peace, they are like children in that sense. Make sure to give your chicken plenty of room, so the two ranks remain separated from one another. There should be enough food and water for everyone as well, or else the higher ranks will spar with the lower ranks that dare to touch the food. It would also be a good idea to refrain bringing new additions to the flock, so peck orders aren’t constantly occurring. Try to buy your chicken around the same time as it is much safer because the fights can end up leading to pecking, feather pulling and cannibalism between breeds. If you have to buy a new bird, I suggest you lower any bright lights in your property to allow them to remain inconspicuous from the older members.
Training your flock may not be the most exciting task on your agenda, but it will benefit you in the long run. Maintaining control over your pets will require patience and consistency. You must observe your chicken and watch if they exhibit the behavior you are looking for and positively reinforce that they are doing right by rewarding them at that moment. This method of training is known as operant conditioning, and the goal is to modify a particular behavior (be it desired or not) through negative and positive reinforcement. When you begin training your chicken you want to begin with a simple task they can easily learn before implementing more complex tasks. It is best not to over-extend your train sessions more than 15 minutes at a time and complete them while you are not mad or frustrated. Of the two, it is often quicker and easier for a bird to learn through positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement.
That was Chapter 2: Types of Chickens from our Homestead Handbook: Raising Backyard Chickens