Let's entertain ourselves with facts about chickens. Why not! It seems reasonable if we're going to raise them, or even if we're just thinking about having a chicken for a pet. They are interesting and useful creatures, and knowing more about them can certainly help us better understand them, allowing us to work with them as a type of team.
I've already discussed chicken behavior, now I want to talk a bit more about chicken trivia and delve into their physiology in particular. That's what I think is most interesting.
Like most things, we see a portion of what exists, and tend to view our world through one perspective, often blind to items of interest along the way.
And, for many of us, if we don't know the facts about chickens, we make assumptions or take a guess and leave it at that. I'm hoping to get some interesting data points out there to minimize guessing and assumptions. Perhaps it's my upbringing as the son of a biology teacher that has me interested in animal physiology. In any event, I think we ought to explore some facts about chickens to get us better "tuned up" on the subject.
Who knows, you might wind up winning a trivia game with your friends. Perhaps you'll score well on a TV game show based on knowing some of these fascinating facts about chickens. I can't say exactly how knowing this information will help you, but being more aware certainly can't hurt you one little bit.
However these facts about chickens might benefit you, let's dive in and see what might be of interest.
One of the more unusual facts about chickens is they're very cold hardy, yet they're an ancestor of jungle birds from Asia. Having been domesticated thousands of years ago, I suppose years of breeding and cross breeding around the world have helped create a bird that seems very much at home in the summer and winter.
Cold weather is a common concern for beginning flock managers, but it's not a problem at all for mature birds. Most chickens have no problem with even below zero weather.
What we know about the anatomy of a chicken is often what we see wrapped up in cellophane at the grocery store. But as you might imagine, that doesn't represent all the facts about chickens because some things are left behind during processing. It might be surprising to learn, but a chicken leg has three parts, not just two. It might seem odd at first because we only see two parts of the leg when whole chicken is packaged in the grocery store...the thighs and drumsticks. As if to confirm this belief, thighs are sold separately and drumsticks are too, and both are sold together as "chicken leg quarters" but we never see the third part of the leg.
Adding to the mystery is what we're able to see in the barnyard, just above the foot, it isn't the drumstick, it's the third part of the leg that we often mistake for the drumstick...the shank.
The casual observer never seems to ask about those awfully skinny legs they see on the chickens in the barnyard, even though clearly they're not big enough to be a drumstick. But if you've ever butchered a chicken, the three parts of the leg become clear once all of those feathers are removed, and before any processing takes place.
Chickens are endlessly pecking at the ground. It's not to fill their stomach as they have something known as a crop that needs filling first. It's like a storage bag for food and water at the end of their throat. Food is held there until the "all clear" is sounded by the rest of the digestive system and then it's sent to the gizzard.
Chickens eat grit and pebbles along with their food so they can grind up seeds, grain and other hard food in their gizzard. They need these otherwise inedible items to help them grind hard foods like grain because they have no ability to chew. The grit and pebbles eventually are passed through their digestive system as part of waste products.
The gizzard is a strong muscled organ like a couple of tiny catcher's mitts facing one another. It has a tough vinyl-like sheath on the inside that separates the muscle from the cavity where food is processed. The muscles roll and crush food inside of this tough sheath before it's sent into the intestinal tract.
That's why chicken gizzards are always cut open when you buy them in the store...the tough sheath needs to be removed during processing because there is no way you could chew this tough rubbery material.
While butchering a bird, if you feel the gizzard a bit before cleaning it out, you can sense the grit and rock material inside it. As odd as it seems, inedible materials are essential for chicken digestion.
Chicken don't urinate. Their waste product is a stinky combination of solid and liquid wastes all in one. That's why their droppings usually have two distinct colors to them. The white color is their form of urine, released in combination with their solid wastes.
Have you had enough facts about chickens or should we continue? Warning, more physiology ahead.
My grandfather used to say he didn't want any roosters in the flock of chickens because he didn't like those spotted eggs, as if the rooster fertilized each egg. He knew the facts about chickens, but enjoyed the joke anyway. He was well aware that eggs are not fertilized by the rooster, it's the hen that gets fertilized, and then the developing eggs are fertilized as part of the hen's egg "assembly line." Once fertilized, the hen can lay fertile eggs for many days without requiring another "date" with the rooster.
Perhaps the most interesting of facts about chickens is how eggs are made. After all, how does all of that soft egg we eat get packaged inside of a hard shell? The answer is that eggs are assembled in stages, first the yolk, then the white, then the membrane, and lastly the shell is formed around it all. It takes a little more than a day for the entire process, and that's why one can expect about five eggs every seven days from hens that are laying at their peak.
Something called bloom covers the egg when first laid. It's a natural type of sealant. The photo above shows an egg that just dropped out of the chicken a moment before the picture was taken. The lighter color end of the egg came out of the vent first, that's why it's dry...it had a few moments exposed to the air to dry out before it was laid. The rest of the egg is darker because it is covered in moist bloom. You can see the shiny spot showing the moisture on the egg.
The photo below shows the same egg only a couple of seconds later. You can see that nearly all of it is dried, except for a few dark streaks near the back, that clearly show the direction of travel when it was laid.
Okay, here's one of the facts about chickens we probably wish we didn't know, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
We tend to take for granted that chickens have a "vent" for waste and another delivery point for eggs. I'm here to tell you that there is only one vent on a chicken. That means both eggs and feces come out of the same bodily orifice. So, when someone says the egg came out of the chicken's ass, it's one of the facts about chickens that is plain, simple and a bit repulsive.
It's difficult for many of us to
imagine a farm with hens laying eggs without there being at least one
rooster strutting around somewhere on the scene. Nevertheless, hens don't need a rooster to lay eggs. If all you're looking for is chicken eggs, the rooster is
nonessential. So ladies, you've been right all along, a man really isn't
Oddly enough, most chickens don't lay white eggs, they lay some shade of brown or tan eggs. But there are some breeds known as the Easter Egg Chicken because they lay pastel colored eggs, mostly of blue and green.
If you're hoping to have your own young chicks, eggs for hatching must be rotated in the incubator for proper development of the embryo. You can't just put eggs in a warm place and expect them to hatch. They need to be turned periodically. It's a natural activity for broody hens to turn their eggs from time to time. If those eggs aren't turned often enough, they just won't hatch.
The Cornish Cross chicken (also known as an X Rock) has been called the best feed to meat converter of all animals on the planet. If it's not the best feed to meat converter, it's certainly not far from the top. A day old Cornish Cross chick can be ready to process for the table in seven to nine weeks if you just keep feeding them.
They do little else but eat. It doesn't take long for the bird to simply be so large that it can do little else but eat.
I once had just the breasts of an older Cornish Cross on my barbecue when my guest showed up. I had a hard time convincing my guest that our evening meal was going to be chicken, not turkey. Even when I said that I had just butchered it that same day (and therefore very familiar with what I butchered) they still didn't believe that it was a chicken. They insisted it was a turkey.
The facts about chickens like the Cornish Cross are they can grow to something like the size of small turkeys.
We don't often hear about a capon (kae-pon), and seldom do we see one for sale in the grocery store. Clearly, it's a large bird, but what is it? A capon is to a chicken, what a steer is to a bull. A capon is a castrated male chicken. With its testicles removed, the animal directs its development towards making lots of tender meat instead of wasting energy fighting and mating and all of the carrying on that roosters often do.
Chickens are like fish, their testicles are located on the back of their rig cage, right near where we'd normally expect kidneys to be. That's why when a capon is desired, the skin needs to be cut open on the back and the ribs are spread apart in order to get at the testicles that are just beneath the surface of the bird's back ribs.
I have a caponizing kit, but I've never used it. The problem is you'll likely kill several of the young birds before you get it right and they survive the operation.
It's just not something I feel compelled to do, at least not yet. For now, I'm perfectly happy with hens.
There you have it, more facts about chickens than you probably ever cared to know.