Hens Can Feel Their Chicks' Pain

Study shows they share signs of distress
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 9, 2011 7:58 AM CST
Chickens Can Feel Empathy, New Study Shows
In this Nov. 16, 2010, photo chickens stand in their cage at the Rose Acre Farms near Stuart, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(Newser) – If you’ve been looking for a reason to take up vegetarianism, here you go: A new study finds that chickens can feel empathy. Researchers in the UK ruffled the feathers of chicks by exposing them to puffs of air. The result: signs of distress in the chicks … that were also mirrored in their mothers. The hens showed signs of stress including an increased heart rate, a lowered eye temperature, and increased levels of alertness, preening, and clucking at their chicks, the Telegraph reports.

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Empathy, or the ability to “feel” another’s emotions, has long been seen as a trait that defines humans. ''The extent to which animals are affected by the distress of others is of high relevance to the welfare of farm and laboratory animals,” says one researcher, because in commercial conditions, chickens are regularly exposed to other birds in distress due to “routine husbandry practices or because of the high prevalence of conditions such as bone fractures or leg disorders,” the researchers say. (Read more chicken stories.)

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