A study led by the University of Queensland has unveiled a fascinating ability in humans – the capability to discern whether chickens are excited or displeased based solely on the sounds of their clucks. Professor Joerg Henning, hailing from UQ’s School of Veterinary Science, spearheaded the research, which delved into whether humans could accurately interpret the context of calls or clucking sounds produced by domestic chickens, one of the world’s most widely farmed species.

Study Methodology and Key Findings

Professor Henning explained the study’s methodology, saying, “In this study, we used recordings of chickens vocalizing in all different scenarios from a previous experiment.” The researchers identified four distinct call types, each associated with specific contexts:

  1. ‘Food’ call: Anticipation of a reward.
  2. ‘Fast cluck’: Also produced in anticipation of a reward.
  3. ‘Whine’ call: Made in non-reward contexts, such as when food was withheld.
  4. ‘Gakel’ call: Another non-reward context call.

To assess humans’ ability to recognize the context in which the chicken sounds were made, the researchers played these audio files and studied the participants’ responses. The study also investigated whether various demographics and levels of experience with chickens influenced the participants’ accuracy in identifying the context.

Implications for Chicken Welfare

The study yielded intriguing results, with Professor Henning reporting, “We found that 69 percent of all participants could correctly distinguish between excited and displeased chicken sounds.” This discovery holds significant promise and further solidifies the evidence that humans possess the capacity to perceive the emotional context conveyed through vocalizations by different species.

Professor Henning emphasized the potential impact on chicken welfare, stating, “The ability to successfully recognize calls produced in reward-related contexts by a substantial proportion of participants is noteworthy.” This finding suggests that individuals involved in chicken husbandry can gauge the emotional states of the birds they care for, even without prior experience.

Future Research and Applications

Looking ahead, Professor Henning outlined future prospects, saying, “Our hope is that in future research, specific acoustic cues predicting how humans interpret arousal in chicken calls could be identified.” These insights could potentially be integrated into artificially intelligent-based detection systems, facilitating the monitoring of vocalizations in chickens.

Such advancements could pave the way for automated assessments of chicken welfare within poultry management systems. Ultimately, this innovation could enhance the care and management of farmed chickens, improving their overall welfare. Additionally, it would empower conscientious consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, as they could choose products derived from ethically treated chickens, contributing to the betterment of animal welfare in the industry.

By Impact Lab