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Chickens


Chickens

Physical Characteristics


Chickens are among the oldest known domestic animals. The Silkie is said to have been domesticated 4,000 years ago. Marco Polo describes it in his travel log. It arrived in China from Tibet.

The Silkie bantam comes in 10 varieties and 5 colors. The average body weight is 28 ounces for females and 35 ounces for males. Their flight capacity is a maximum of 3 feet.

Chickens, like all birds, are visually oriented. The size of the eyeball permits visualization of a relatively large image. This accounts for the ability of chickens to see even the tiniest food particles, like seeds.

Chickens do not hear as well as they can see, but their ears are reasonably well developed and useful. They do not have an external ear, but rather a round opening that is surrounded by a disc and hidden by tiny feathers. Their olfactory (smelling) sense is poorly developed.

Chickens communicate by voice and gestures. Crowing announces the morning just at the break of dawn. The hen's loud, excited cackle announces an egg just laid. Clucking sounds are the distinctive voice sounds of a broody hen and the contact assurance of a mother for her chicks.


Habitat


Chickens require light, warmth, and shelter from wind and drafts. Despite their love of warmth, chickens tolerate heat poorly, since they have no sweat glands to allow perspiration. Therefore adequate shade must be provided.


Behavior


Healthy Chickens are active and curious, yet they do not get flustered when they need to be handled. They spend most of their time busily picking and scratching for food, and actively dusting and preening their plumage. They clean and preen their feathers in a leisurely fashion several times a day. With their beaks they put each and every feather in its right place, and then preen them by distributing oil over them. Dust-bathing is an integral part of personal chicken hygiene.

Adult chickens molt annually in late summer or early fall. It takes several weeks to replace the smallest feathers on the body and head.

Chickens are best kept in small families of one rooster with two or three hens. Minor fighting among the males starts at an early age, and while it looks fierce, it does not usually result in injuries.


Diet


Chickens have no teeth so they swallow their food whole. In the Zoo they are fed Triple Duty, a poultry mash, and scratch feed containing oat and cracked corn.


Reproduction And Growth


Male and female silkies are sexually mature at about five months of age. Their eggs are a brownish color and a female lays between 90 and 120 eggs per year.

All hens like to lay their eggs in a nest that is in a quiet, semi-darkened, well-prepared place with good, clean nesting material. The hen takes about two hours from sitting to leaving the nest. Most hens prefer to brood in the same place where they are used to laying eggs. Eggs hatch in about 21 days.

Chicks are covered with soft down at birth. During the first 24 hours after hatching, the chicks consume the remainder of the yolk.

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