Do hens form friendships? Those reared in commercial conditions don’t, and are not particular about who they spend time with, a Royal Veterinary College study has found.

The research was carried out to discover if the welfare of chickens could be improved by taking advantage of friendships.

“We investigated the possibility that domesticated egg-laying hens form distinct ‘friendships’ by examining whether or not individual chickens were particular about who they spent most time with,” said research leader Siobhan Abeyesinghe.

“This is not so odd a question as you might think: in humans and other species, friendships have been shown to enrich life positively, buffer against stressful experiences and even improve reproductive success.”

The movements of eight identical groups of 15 laying hens were monitored over eight weeks, examining whether pairs of birds were found together more often than expected by chance when they were active and when roosting at night.

“We found no evidence to suggest that modern hens reared in commercial conditions form such friendships, even when they are housed in small groups where it is possible to know every other bird,” said Ms Abeyesinghe.

Mine do, says Charlotte…

YC writer Charlotte Popescu says: “Contrary to the findings of this report, I believe that friendships do exist amongst my chickens, although it is evident that some last and some do not.

“This is particularly noticeable when two hens arrive together. My two Welsummers, who came together from Wales, definitely stick together. On the other hand, my two Exchequer Leghorns decided to part company a few weeks after arriving and no longer wish to sleep in the same hutch! One has moved to an empty hutch and made it her new sleeping quarters leaving the other hen on her own (proving that hens do not always want company!).

“My cockerels definitely have their favourite hens. My New Hampshire Red bantam cockerel always sleeps with a little Gold Brahma bantam and looks after her during the day. Chicks who grow up together as brothers and sisters will also stay together, sleeping and foraging as a group. Once fully grown, though, they may develop new relationships. It seems to me, once again, that chickens are no different to humans!”

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