The parts of a chicken most people tend to be familiar with are the ones that end up on their plates: “cuts of meat” from a depersonalized carcass that involve unfeeling descriptors like “boneless,” “skinless” and “split breast.” These lifeless parts — “wings” and “thighs” — stand in for the once living individual in a crude synecdoche whereby we learn to think of chickens, if we think of them at all, as a clucking mass of undifferentiated consciousness, a billion mindless iterations of the same crass essence ceaselessly extinguished, ceaselessly replaced: not chickens, but “chicken.”
The truth is, we’re not meant to think about chickens as individuals. Because then we’d have to think about what it means that every single day, worldwide, we brutally slaughter 136 million unique individuals with personalities and emotions just as distinct and complex as our beloved cats and dogs. In the U.S. alone, we slaughter 23 million chickens a day in conditions so horrific our imaginations would shutter merely trying to conceive of them.
But chickens are individuals. And the parts of a chicken extend far beyond the degrading diagram of a butcher’s cuts, and serve a meaningful purpose. A chicken’s eyes can see more colors than human eyes can see. A chicken’s hearing is acute, and can easily distinguish the more than 30 different calls and vocalizations that chickens make as part of their normal vocabulary, as well as countless environmental auditory cues.
A chicken’s beak is her primary sense organ, with the sensory input equivalent of a human fingertip. Loaded with nerve endings and blood vessels, a chicken’s beak-end can discriminate grit from small grubs, it can discern a seed from a flea. But in nearly all hens used for eggs, including “cage free” and “free range” hens, this nerve-filled portion of the beak is cut off with a hot blade without any painkiller. Please see our feature, Eggs: What Are You Really Eating?
Chickens also have a rich emotional life. Did you know that many chickens (including Free from Harm’s own Doris) purr from contentment? Joy, fear, curiosity, pain, affection and the desire for friendship; these are parts of a chicken. The desire to be free from fear and pain; the desire to be free; these are parts of a chicken. If you have never considered that a chicken’s life and liberty mean as much to a chicken as our lives and liberty mean to us, please watch the following extraordinary clip. The will to live, the wish to be loved for who you are… these too are parts of a chicken.
Free from Harm has rescued chickens for many years, and we believe that if more people understood what unique and amazing individuals chickens really are, they would never use or abuse them. You can help us work to change public understanding and treatment of these animals by sharing our posts and articles about them. To learn more about the fascinating minds and emotional lives of chickens, please see our in-depth feature, Chicken Behavior: An Overview of Recent Science.