Chicken foraging behavior Nature versus nurture

A window is cut in a chicken eggIn our quest for good foraging
chicken breeds
, I started to wonder — is foraging ability in
chickens learned or is it innate?  The answer seems to be a little
bit of both.

Pecking is an innate chicken behavior.  In one study, scientists
placed a window in a developing chicken egg so that they could study
the chick’s behavior in the shell.  The chicks pecked even before
they hatched, clearly proving that pecking is ingrained in their

While pecking is innate, foraging is learned.  You can see
chickens learning to forage when you give day old chicks their first
food dish.  It may take a few minutes for the chickens to discover
the food, but when one bird finds it, all of the rest soon
follow.  So I continue to think that it’s important to get our
broilers out on pasture ASAP so that they can learn more foraging

Even if you don’t plan to raise your chickens in a forest pasture,
it’s useful to understand the root of pecking behavior.  Chickens
in wild
conditions spent up to 90% of their time foraging, which equated to
15,000 pecks per day.  When placed in a confined space with high
quality food that is consumed in a matter of minutes, though, chickens
often misplace their foraging behavior into pecking at each
other.  The result — called feather
— can be bloody and disturbing.

We’ve discovered that our automatic
chicken waterer
solves this problem since it gives chickens
something to peck at other than their neighbors.  We also like to
scatter our feed on the ground to give our chickens more foraging time,
and to raise them in chicken
where plenty of plants and bugs are present for
supplemental food.  Giving your chickens a more positive outlet
for their pecking behavior seems to work well at preventing feather
pecking in even a confined flock.

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