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STUDY: Just like puppies and kittens, young chickens like to play too

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A growing body of research presents strong evidence that chickens, like any other highly intelligent and social species, have distinct personalities. And yet, the way chickens have been treated within our food systems has remained largely unchanged.

DEVATA P. NAIR: When we think about animals at play, we tend to think of cats and dogs — the two most popular companion animals. But a recent study in Nature suggests chickens enjoy play too. They run. They jump. They even play with toys — a fake worm in this case — along with their fellow chickens.

The study builds off of previous research on chicken behavior — suggesting that farmed animals aren’t all that different from the rest of us. Play is a popular activity for most young animals, whether humans, kittens or calf. Researchers suggest that play is an excellent indicator of having achieved a relaxed state, one that is free from stress…

researchers compared play behavior between domesticated chickens and wild chickens, using overhead cameras to study the birds and their interactions. The scientists recognized up to 14 different play behaviors, including running, jumping, sparring and wrestling with each other, and playing with different objects.

Domesticated animals tend to behave in a more juvenile manner when compared to non-domesticated species. In this study, the young domesticated chickens indulged in play significantly more often than their wild counterparts. When given a choice, the chickens opted to play with toys, another sign of their highly curious and social personalities. Other studies have also shown that chickens have the capacity for basic arithmetic, along with the ability to make logical decisions based on rudimentary reasoning skills…

In humans, exposure to stress in the early years of life can change how you behave. Young chickens are no different. Domesticated chickens tend to alter their habits in response to stress, which can affect their biology over long periods and even across generations. For birds reared on a factory farm, there are plenty of stressors to contend with…

Farmed chickens may even be using play as a coping mechanism, the research suggests. Previous studies show young chickens exposed to early stress during hatching develop a stronger tolerance for stress and in turn a higher motivation to indulge in positive behavior such as play. The researchers of the Nature study also found a small but significant increase in the frequency of play among the domesticated chicken group…

Just like other animals who are emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally complex individuals, chickens’ ability to indulge in play too may be driven by a combination of behaviors. A growing body of research presents strong evidence that chickens, like any other highly intelligent and social species, have distinct personalities. And yet, the way chickens have been treated within our food systems has remained largely unchanged.

Perhaps now that we know that stimulating play can be one of many factors contributing to the psychological welfare of chickens, factory farms might consider offering enrichments for chickens within our food systems, something that could be especially important for a chicken’s life, even a brief one spent in a factory farm. SOURCE…

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