Hens are capable of mathematical reasoning and logic, including numeracy, self-control and even basic structural engineering, following research.
Traits such as these are normally only shown in children above the age of four, but the domesticated birds have an ability to empathise, a sophisticated theory of mind and plan ahead.
“The domesticated chicken is something of a phenomenon,” Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, and the head of a study sponsored by the Happy Egg Company.
She told The Times: “Studies over the past 20 years have revealed their finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.”
In her study ‘The Intelligent Hen’, Ms Nicol explains the animal is capable of distinguishing numbers up to five and is familiar with transitive inference – the idea in logic that, if A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C.
For a chicken, this could be applied to fighting. If the first chicken beat the second, who had already beaten the third, the third chicken would assume that the first chicken would beat them too.
The birds also have an understanding of physics, which was shown in experiments where they showed more interest in realistic diagrams than those that defied the laws of physics.
Young chicks knew that an object that moves out of their sight still exists, unlike human babies who only develop those skills aged one.
Chickens also showed the ability to plan ahead and exhibit self-control, with 93% of hens understanding that if they waited longer to start eating food, they would be allowed access to it for longer.
Further evidence of hens’ intelligence comes from tests showing that at just two weeks’ old, they can navigate using the sun by taking into account its height and position during the day.
Siobhan Abeyesinghe, who this year published a seminal study Do Hens Have Friends?, told the newspaper: “Chickens certainly have more capabilities than people are aware of. I do think they are unjustly maligned.
“We have this psychological shielding to devalue animals we use for meat so we feel less concern about them.”