BOOKS: The Inner World of Farm Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2009:

The Inner World of Farm Animals: Their amazing social, emotional
and intellectual capacities
by Amy Hatkoff
Stewart, Tabori and Chang (New York), 2009.
(c/o Abrams Books, 115 W. 18th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY
10011), 2009. 176 pages, $19.95.

“Chickens are very social and form strong friendships. They
prefer the company of familiar chickens and avoid chickens they don’t
know,” says Inner World of Farm Animals author Amy Hatkoff. This
sounds like my cousin who loves company but shies away from
strangers. Is it possible that farm animals, such as chickens,
cows, and sheep experience social memory, show preferences, and
interact with one another? According to the author, the answer is a
resounding yes.

Hatkoff presents research that demonstrates chickens grasp
abstract concepts. For example, researchers at the University of
Padua found that chicks can recognize an entire object when it is
partially hidden, a capacity once thought to be unique to humans.
Italian researchers Giorgio Vallortigara and Lucia Regolin say chicks
have memory as soon as they hatch.
University of New England researcher Gisela Kaplan says
chickens can communicate with each other about mating, danger, and
even give an “all clear” sign. Only primates were previously
believed to be capable of such sophisticated communication. Like
most humans, chickens thrive with companionship. Chicks recognize
their siblings as soon as they hatch. To humans, they all look
alike, but the researchers say chicks know family from strangers.
If a pair of chicks is separated, Hatkoff explains, their stress
level rises. A child would be similarly distraught if suddenly
removed from his family.
Several rescued chickens stand out in special ways. Take the
case of Brandy. Stranded in a dumpster with other chicks, Brandy
and crew eventually arrived at an animal sanctuary. Workers say
Brandy, a plucky bird, runs when someone calls his name. He is
described as personable. When a child disabled with cerebral palsy
visited the sanctuary, Brandy took a liking to the wheel-chair bound
boy, and plopped himself on the boy’s lap, making him smile.
Pigs, according to Hatkoff, show similar behavior.
“Piglets love to play with and be in the company of familiar piglets,
and become distressed when they are separated,” says Hatkoff. As
well as being sociable, pigs are intelligent. Oregon State
University Department of Animal Sciences researcher Candace Croney
began her investigations of pig intelligence by confirming that pigs
can fetch objects upon request and respond to commands–much like
like the family dog. Eventually Croney and her associate Stanley
Curtis taught pigs to play video games with a joystick, in an
experiment described in the June 1998 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Pigs, although much aligned by humans, are easily stressed
and don’t like rough treatment. The author cites several poignant
pig stories. For example, Hope and Johnny lived at a sanctuary.
An injured leg prevented Hope from walking. Johnny protected her and
kept other pigs away. They slept together, ate together, and
enjoyed life as a couple. After Hope died of old age, Johnny
followed a few weeks later.
Hatkoff also presents research showing the social
intelligence of sheep. Keith Kendrick, professor of cognitive and
behavioral neurosciences at the Babraham Institute near Cambridge,
says that when sheep suffer from separation anxiety, a picture of a
familiar face calms them. Kendrick also says that sheep prefer a
smiling human face to a snarling angry face. They avoid angry or
anxious faces, even when associated with food. Male sheep are said
to prefer mates who resemble their mothers. And sheep can learn to
respond to their names.
The book has flaws. Often Hatkof teases us with just a few
lines about intriguing work regarding the intelligence of farm
animals. I would like to know more, for instance, about the sheep
studies done by Alain Boissy and Bertrand Dumont. Sometimes Hatkoff
refers to “researchers,” but neglects to name them or specify where
and when the research she is describing was conducted, so that one
might find details elsewhere.
–by Debra J. White

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