How much do we need to know about farm animal intelligence?

If you follow my blog, you know that getting chickens changed me in a pretty profound way. I had been told growing up that farm animals, including animals like cows and chickens, were “dumb animals.” Of course, as I grew older, read more, and observed the world more, I realized this wasn’t true, but I didn’t know just how intelligent animals were until I really started looking at the most current research, which began when we got our first flock of chickens.

Our chickens were so much more intelligent than I could have imagined, and they were full of personality. In the flock, it’s hard to tell personalities apart, but if you get close to the chickens or have to separate one for health or broody reasons, you start to see just how much of an individual each chicken is.

They are social, funny, quirky, grumpy, sweet, patient, busy, and so much more. For years, science told us not to assign human characteristics to animal behavior, but as we begin to see some real research on animal intelligence, we are learning that we’re all not that different. After all, humans are animals too.

And the more I learned, the more I shared with my husband and sons. One morning, I had just read an article on chicken intelligence and was sharing with my husband that scientists now estimate chicken intelligence to be that of a six or seven year old human, and he stopped me.

“Please don’t tell me any more.”

I realized in that moment how hard it must be on my husband because, when we process chickens for our meat a couple of times a year, he bears the brunt of the responsibility. He is kind, respectful, quick, and clean, but he is still killing those chickens for our food. It’s hard on him.

It made me wonder: How much do we need to know about animal intelligence?

I’ve been thinking about this for many months and have come to just one conclusion—maybe we just need to know enough that we start treating our animals better.

image of cows

Photo credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Maybe we need to know that scientists think pigs are as intelligent as the great apes, so we don’t put them in cages and keep them isolated. Maybe we need to know that chickens are highly social and suffer greatly under stress, so we give them enough space and access to clean water and good food.

I’m not arguing here that we shouldn’t eat meat. I’ve tried a few times in my life to become a vegetarian, and I just failed miserably. I grew up in Texas, after all. Meat is like at the bottom of the food pyramid down there.

What I’m thinking is we need to demand that our food industry to do better in the only way we can—with the way we shop for food.

Maybe we don’t need to know the problem solving skills of chickens, but we do need to know that they need space, light, dark, fresh water, and some respect.

I know there are those who may read this who just don’t care about the quality of life for an animal. I’ve had people say that to me, and though I don’t understand this way of thinking, I understand it’s a reality for many in our culture.

So I present this additional argument: When farm animals are raised in better conditions, they taste better, and some science suggests the food is even more nutritious. Eggs are a perfect example of this. And the chicken we buy in the grocery store doesn’t even taste like chicken. It tastes like nothing that we then season to taste like something.

I think we have to figure out a way to do better, and many people in Maine I know are doing better. Let’s keep it going and remember that farm animals are not “dumb animals,” and really do deserve our respect and gratitude. Our factory farming methods are most certainly a crime against humanity, so we, as a culture, need to know enough about animal intelligence that we demand better.

It feels good to write about this. I’m probably going to lay low with my husband, however, on the research showing chickens can solve math problems. He definitely knows enough. I think this post he wrote last year says it all.

Crystal Sands

About Crystal Sands

I am a former academic and award winning writing teacher turned hobby farmer/homeschooling mom/freelancer. In 2015, after too many years of working too many hours, I decided to change my life. This blog shares my stories related to making the change and simplifying my life–a process that began when we finally got our first chickens. In this blog, I will share my experiences learning how to hobby farm on a small place in Maine, become more self-sufficient, live frugally, live peacefully, and have more time for love. I hope you will join me on this journey by following my blog and following me on Twitter @CrystalDSands.