Chickens

There are hundreds of varieties of chicken.
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Some are very fancy and looks as through they are wearing posh hats, snazzy boots or unusual pantaloons.
Every single chicken has about four thousand feathers.

They all have a coloured frill on their heads and under their beaks. They are usually a reddish colour are called combs and wattles. There are nine types of comb in different shapes and sizes.

You can tell if the bird is healthy by looking at the colour of its comb and this is also one of the ways that other Chickens pick a strong partner to flirt and mate with.

Chickens bathe in the dust to clean their feathers and skin. By doing this they keep away mites, keep cool themselves down and scrub away old skin and muck.

bufforpchicken2They enjoy getting together in groups when they have their dustbaths as if they are enjoying a day at the spa.

They are very communicative and use thirty or so sounds that they put together in many different ways, just like we put words together to make sentences, so that they can natter to each other. In fact they are very sociable creatures and they have incredible memories. They can recognise and remember over a hundred different human and animal faces.

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Male chickens are called cockerels and they are famous for being early morning alarm clocks because they crow with a cock-a-doodle-doo sound when the sun rises.

Chickens can navigate and tell the time using the magnetic fields of the earth and the sun, which is how they know when to roost, to snuggle down together in a safe space and sleep, and when to wake up.

Because lots of other creatures like to eat chickens they have to be extra careful in watching out for danger.

To do this really well they have developed great ways to be aware of threats and get to safety.

chicken4The right eye of a chicken focuses on things nearby, like food, and the left one focusses on the distance and looking out for danger.

They can see in colour, just like humans, except that their vision is better than ours because they have Ultra Violet sight as well. Because of this the mother hen can spot if her chicks are unwell even before they are hatched.

They have the most excellent ears which help them to avoid being snuck up on by something greedy. As they get older, a chicken’s hearing starts to get weaker, the cells in the part of their head responsible for hearing can regrow so that they can mend themselves and hear every bit as well as they used to.

They can run at nine miles an hour, which is very fast and comes in very useful getting away from hungry creatures who fancy a chicken for supper.

chicken5Chickens’ beaks are super sensitive with a cluster of nerves as the tip. They use their beaks to ruffle around in their feathers and root out irritating insects and dirt, to probe around for bits and pieces of food to eat, to drink through, to defend themselves and their chicks and to suck up blades of grass like spaghetti strands.

eggFemale chickens are called hens. It is the hens that lay the eggs. Only when the cockerel and the hen have mated is the egg fertilised and will hatch into a chick.

The mother hen natters to the chicks before they are hatched. While they are still all curled up in the egg she makes little trills and chirrups to them so that they will recognise her voice after they hatch.

She turns every egg around about fifty times every day so that the chicks inside grow evenly and become big and strong. Because eggs take twenty one days to hatch, that is a lot of work to do.

The tiny hatchling chick has a special sort of spur on its beak to help it crack its way out of the shell. It’s really important that the chick makes its own way out into the world. If we try to help it we interrupt the work that the baby chick has to do and we can hurt it.

The eggs that are not fertilised are the ones that people eat.

Did you know that chickens are the closest living relative to the dinosaurs?

chicken7Their DNA has been ‘sequenced’ that sort of means that scientists have worked out the formula or ingredients that makes a chicken into a chicken. These scientists also did the same thing to a fossilised shard of Tyrannosaurus Rex bone, and found that chickens and ostriches the nearest thing we have to them alive in our world today.


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IMG_1798Our other new chicken breed at Mudchute is rather chunkier than the tiny Dutch Bantam. In comparison to the dainty bantam, these birds look a bit like chicken weightlifters! These well-muscled birds are our new Indian Game, also know as the Cornish Game in America.

First records of the breed date back to the 1850s. It is believed that Indian Game birds trace their origins back to pit fighting with ancestors including Aseel, Malay, Old English Game and a breed similar to Sumatra Game. However, birds proved far more valuable for their large quantities breast meat rather than fighting ability and continue to be prized as meat birds.

Here in the UK, only two colours are accepted, the original “dark” variety like our birds, and the “Double Blue Laced” which was introduced in 1887. Dark birds like ours have a rich green glossy sheen or lustre to their black feathers, which you may spot in the right light. If you take a closer look, some of their other feathers show the beautiful patterning called lacing and this particularly visible in hens. For more about this unusual breed, visit the Indian Game Club.

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IMG_1744There is a diminutive new chicken breed on the farm, the Dutch Bantam. Bantams are small chickens and the Dutch bantams is the smallest! The new bantams are the smallest of the chicken breeds here at Mudchute. At full size, a Dutch bantam cockerel weighs only 500-550g. It is one of few “true bantam” breeds, meaning it has no large counterpart. As their name suggests, the breed originate in the Netherlands where they are called Hollandse Kriel. The breed standard for Dutch bantams includes a “upright & jaunty” carriage, which we think our cockerel certainly exhibits as he strolls Pets Corner and watches over his hens. The breed is accepted in a variety of colours. Our group are of the gold partridge variant.

You can find out more about the breed from the Dutch Bantam Club of Great Britain.

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