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Chickens feel empathy! Are we surprised, and does it matter?

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Now, while this will be almost unbelievable news to many people, the fact is, it’s not news to those of us who have spent a long time hanging around with chickens. In fact, it’s a no-brainer.

What’s also true is that not all chickens feel this kind of feeling toward their off-spring, making them even more — dare I say it? — “human” than this article might suggest. We’ve known hens who’ve walked away from their chicks, even when there was only one of them, sometimes when the babies were as young as two weeks old. No reason we could see — they just didn’t feel like raising them. Such deviations from monolithic perceptions of non-humans are important to note, for otherwise we tend to see other species as devoid of individuality.

However, while all of this is interesting, does it matter? Many folks feel that it’s wrong to impose cruelty upon species who can feel emotions or reason to some extent, and of course I agree. But why only those creatures? Let’s pretend that chickens couldn’t care less about each other, or their off-spring, or anything else for that matter. Should that give us liberty to take over complete control of their entire lives, from beginning to end, and impart massive pain upon them in the process?

It’s a slippery slope, justifying our opposition to the infliction of suffering by saying the creature who suffers is empathic, or smart, or seemingly Just Like Humans in other ways. This slope leads to things like experimenting upon mentally retarded humans because — well — they aren’t as smart as non-mentally retarded humans. It leads to things like labeling some humans as not quite human so we can enslave them or wipe them out entirely if we like.

Ultimately, of course, this slope leads us right back to where we began this insanity: the supposition that if a creature is human (as defined by the powers that be, of course) it deserves some sort of baseline respect, and if it is not human, or at least human-like, we can do whatever the hell we want to it.

Do we like that slope? I sure don’t. How about we smash the slope and just stop being cruel to everyone else? HOW HARD IS THAT? And why is it so terribly unthinkable to almost all of the humans on this planet?

1 comment to Chickens feel empathy! Are we surprised, and does it matter?

  • victoria figurelli
    Yes i do believe chickens have empathy.On 031411 my Daisy my Buff died of a heart attack in front of me and her flock mates and Winona by silver laced is still looking for her. Daisy has a special place on the roost at night and Winona used to put her head under her wing and sleep on the roost be in mind these chickens are 3 yrs old and have been together since they were chicks . when i let them out into there day pen duting the day I can see her walking around she looks in all the other coops. when I do my final check at night no one has taken her place on the roost all are on the floor sleeping together in a big ball of feathers. I believe they do miss I will always miss and love her

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