Inside the mind of the humble hen

Iggy Pop has a line in his song Lust for Life which goes, ‘Yeah, something called love… well that’s like hypnotising chickens…’.

Whilst I am not aware that Mr Pop has ever kept chickens, his assumption that chickens can be hypnotised is, indeed, correct. I know this, because I have tried it.

Several years ago, a farming friend of ours told me he had seen foxes hypnotise chickens by making eye contact with them, then spinning round under the chickens’ roost until the dizzy and disorientated chickens fell off the perch. This was such a beguiling story that, although I didn’t believe a word of it, I simply had to give it a try.

I started off one evening by trying out the effect of a concentrated stare on the chickens. I waited till Charlotte, one of our larger hens, had just adopted the tense crouch needed to jump up to the roost, and I fixed her with a steely gaze. Immediately she stood up and fluffed her feathers nervously, as if flying up to the roost had been the last thing on her mind. She then scratched aimlessly at the ground for a bit. When she realised I wasn’t planning on leaving, she once more assumed her preparatory crouch, but, catching my eye just before she jumped she again couldn’t go through with it. Whether this is down to the power of my mesmeric stare or whether it’s because our chickens are simply stupendously bashful, I just don’t know. Eventually, I was forced to leave Charlotte to it out of sheer embarrassment for her; as soon as I turned my head away she leaped successfully up onto the roost.

I was even more startled at the effect of my potent stare on Agatha, our sneakiest hen. I waited till she was comfortably settled on the roost, then I gazed deeply into her eyes. She stared deeply back into mine. Without breaking my gaze, I slowly moved my head to the left. Agatha slowly moved her head, mirroring my movements. I moved my head to the right, and Agatha copied me. Very slowly, I moved my head in a circular motion. Unblinking, Agatha followed suit.

It was terribly tempting to take the experiment that one step further and increase the pace to see if Agatha fell off the roost, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Perhaps I should work on my hypnotic stare and see if it has any effect on humans?

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