A rescued battery hen that was just days away from being slaughtered has stunned its owners with her ability to count. The brainy chicken called JJ, three, has been dubbed the ”Carole Vorderman” of the poultry world by using playing cards to learn how to count to seven. Owner Helen Jones, 47, can show the hen a playing card and JJ pecks her beak on it the corresponding number of times. JJ had been confined to laying eggs in a battery farm before she was free by animal campaigners last year. She was taken to a shelter for ‘shell shocked’ hens where her new carers discovered she was actually a genius.
The stunned owner discovered the amazing ability after hearing a rumour that chickens could be trained to perform tricks. She thrust a card in front of JJ and rewarded her with grain when she tapped with her beak the correct number of times. Helen said: “Once she had started to settle into the free range way of life I decided to try one or two things with her. She seemed to take to it very, very well. We were amazed. The important thing is to take very small steps and to not spend too long. It’s got to be fun for the hen or they lose interest. I take her to one side away from the other chickens and spend two or three minutes building up her skills.
”It’s very important to make sure they are rewarded when they get it right. The other chickens are amazed. They all stand and watch and then they want to have a go themselves. One or two others have tried it but they don’t seem to get it.” JJ was rescued from her battery farm by British Hen Welfare Trust last summer after one of their officers discovered the bird was suffering from a broken pelvis. The stricken chicken could not even walk and struggled to fit into the clutch of hen when first rehomed at Helen’s shelter in Felmingham, Norfolk. The boffin bird had reached 18-months, the average age of a battery hen, which is when they become less productive, or “spent.”
But fortunately the British Hen Welfare Trust stepped in and rehomed her with landscape gardener Helen Jones. Birds have a strong visual memory, which means they can quickly learn to associate patterns with receiving food rewards. Helen decided she would see if she could use the theory to teach JJ how to count. Training began just six weeks ago when Helen showed JJ the ‘Ace’ card, tapped it once with her finger. When the bird pecked the card once Helen rewarded JJ with some sunflower seeds. The process was then repeated, until JJ recognised the pattern for two, then three, four, five, and six, and seven. JJ is now busy learning how to recognise the remaining cards in the pack.
There's a short news video here.