Animal Info Chickens Family Life and Reproduction

About the family life and reproduction habits of chickens, hens and roosters, eggs and hatching.



Chickens, part of the family Phasianidae (quail, partridge, and pheasant), are the step-children of the bird kingdom. Most chickens today have been converted into automatic egg-laying machines--stacked in piled-up cages, debeaked, their wattles and combs trimmed, fed scientifically to increase their meat and egg-laying potential; any discussion of their "family life" would be a bitter joke.

Born in a hatchery (some of which hatch as many as 1 million eggs at one time) and raised in an electric brooder, a chick can live and die without ever setting a foot on the ground or seeing daylight.

However, when chickens are kept in coops and allowed to mingle with other birds in outdoor areas, they have an interesting life-style, established by a pecking order. The rooster is always cock of the flock and defends his hen harem, but even the smallest chick battles for its position in the pecking order, which is nature's way of determining which bird eats or drinks first. A chicken precedes any bird it can peck, and follows any bird that can peck it.

A rooster courts a hen by spreading his wing feathers. He also takes an active interest in her nesting--scouting around for likely sites--and helps her scrape dirt together to form a nest for her eggs.

The hatching period for an egg is 21 days. The chick is nourished by its egg's yolk before birth. When birth is imminent, the chick chirps faintly before chipping its way out of the shell with its beak. A chick remembers its mother and is up and running around within hours after its birth. A mother hen shelters her chicks under the warmth of lowered wings. She also scratches up their dinner--grain, worms, or insects.

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