oh-myyy-ribbon

Yes, Chickens Speak Their Own Language and Now Farmers Are Trying to Decipher It

Flock of cock and hens (Gallus gallus domesticus) chickens in field at poultry farm. (Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)

There are 19 billion chickens on the planet, and they exist at our pleasure. Yet we don’t really understand them. Perhaps the wisdom of the chicken isn’t something the world needs to hear, but on the other hand, as factory farming techniques proliferate around the world, and the risk of diseases intensifies, any information chickens can communicate is valuable.

Engineers and poultry scientists at The University of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology are collaborating with farmers to interpret the chicken language to monitor flock and farm conditions. They’ve developed software that can listen in chicken facilities and alert farmers to problems with temperature, air quality, illness, or other stressors.


Researchers and attentive farmers say that chickens can let us know when something is wrong with their health or environment — we just need to listen to what they are saying. Chicken talk includes a variety of seemingly crazy and nonsensical sounds, including tweets, shrieks, clucks, coos and alarm calls. While it might be a stretch to call it genius, these communications represent a very basic intelligence.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, University of California ornithologists Nicholas and Elsie Collias catalogued more than 24 distinct chicken vocalizations. Chickens can communicate with each other using these sounds, to announce the production of eggs, complain about poor conditions, or warn each other about danger. They use a specific sound to warn the rest of the flock about ground predators and another for aerial predators, for example. They may stop making sounds altogether when sick. If farmers learn to interpret chicken talk, they can pick up valuable information about the wellbeing of the flock.

“A lot of poultry farmers we have worked with say they can hear when something is wrong with a flock, but they can’t tell us exactly how they know that,” said Georgia Tech research engineer Wayne Daley. “There’s a lot of subtlety. We’re learning that there are changes in the frequency of the sounds and the levels—the amplitude or loudness—that the machines can pick up on.”

Such software could make it easier for intensive farming operations to keep flocks safe in an era of decreasing health and safety regulations. The Trump administration has reversed Obama-era regulations that impacted the chicken industry, including a rule that would limit poultry plant inspections to 140 birds per minute. The poultry industry lobbied to increase that to 175 birds per minute, a production speed that critics worry would allow more diseased animals to pass through the system undetected, as well as expose workers to more risks.

"USDA wanted to raise the maximum line speed, but OSHA was very concerned that it would result in more workers being injured," said David Michaels, Obama’s former head of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "We had support (from White House officials) who agreed that we didn't want thousands of workers to have their arms destroyed by having to cut up chickens at 175 birds per minute."

The Trump administration has also nixed Obama-era rules that required that poultry that is labeled as organic must be housed in spaces that allow that birds to move freely, stretch their wings, stand normally, and engage in natural behaviors. “This is, in fact, what consumers already expect from the organic poultry and eggs they buy in stores,” said Cameron Harsh, the Center for Food Safety’s senior manager for organic and animal policy. “But the largest poultry producers have so far been able to consider small, cement, fenced-in areas as outdoor access and have not been required to abide by specific spacing limitations.”

Intensive chicken operations rely on battery cages, which confine the animals to a space too small to stand up or turn around in. In addition, they are subjected to de-beaking and overfed to promote rapid growth, which causes deformities and body stress. Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, says that intensively reared chicken is three times higher in fat, one third lower in protein, and lower in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids now than it was in the 1970s. “Keeping chickens in cruel conditions produces a poorer product,” he said.

Keeping animals in cruel conditions also leads to dangers for humans. Large quantities of antibiotics are mixed into the chicken’s feed to limit the progress of deadly diseases such as campylobacter and salmonella, which can spread rapidly in overcrowded farms. The more antibiotics that are used in farming, the less well they work for humans. Diseases like avian flu can race through crowded bird farms and pose a threat to humans. Outbreaks of bird flu impacted the poultry industry in the Philippines, India, Saudi Arabia and Iran in late 2017 and early 2018.

Poultry producers implement factory farming techniques to produce more chickens and eggs at a lower cost. But when these techniques lead to disease, the cost to public health as well as business and governments are high. New estimates find that the 2015 outbreak cost the US $1.3 billion in lost exports. In our search for better ways to feed a growing planet, maybe we should listen to what the birds have to say.

Blaze TV

Continuing a steady slide to the right since her tenure as President Donald Trump's United Nations ambassador, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is under heat for recent comments regarding the Confederate flag.

The comments came during an interview with far-Right Blaze TV host Glenn Beck.

Keep reading... Show less
Fox News

Former Vice President and current 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden erupted at a man during an Iowa town hall who accused him of actively working to get his son Hunter a board position on the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings. Biden called the man a "damn liar" before challenging him to pushups.

Republicans seized on the moment as an opportunity to discredit Biden as a candidate, but Fox and Friends cohost Ainsley Earhardt's reaction may be the most deluded yet.

Keep reading... Show less
Bryan Woolston/Getty Images // @parscale/Twitter

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has repeatedly made clear that, after President Donald Trump solicited Ukrainian leaders to announce investigations that personally benefitted him, the decision to launch impeachment proceedings wasn't a political maneuver, but a constitutional mandate.

The move came after years of Trump's supporters, as well as some critics, insisted that impeachment would be political suicide for the Democrats.

Since shortly after the inquiry's announcement in September, support for impeachment outweighed its oppositon as more revelations surfaced of Trump's dealings with Ukraine, but his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale attempted to show that Pelosi's move to impeach would lose Democrats their House majority.

Keep reading... Show less
CNN

Shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that representatives would begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took the podium to defend the President and the Republican party as a whole.

It could've gone better.

Keep reading... Show less
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images // MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

One day after the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) held a press conference announcing that the House would begin drafting articles of impeachment, with a possible floor vote as soon as Christmas.

The press conference signaled the beginning of the end of the impeachment inquiry in the House.

Keep reading... Show less
Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee, in its public impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump on Wednesday, consulted four constitutional scholars for greater insight to the legal implications of the President's Ukraine scandal—and whether they merit impeachment.

Three witnesses, called by Democrats, each made compelling arguments for the articles of impeachment with which Trump could be charged.

George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley—invited by Republicans—was the lone dissenter.

Keep reading... Show less