Monday, June 8, 2009

Speaking Chicken

Chicken Squawk Studied At UConn
By CAROLYN MOREAU The Hartford Courant
June 6, 2009

STORRS — - For hundreds of hours, Ebenezer Otu-Nyarko has been studying "pok cluck cluck," "cluck bawk bawk" and "cluck cluck cluck."

It might earn him a doctorate.

Otu-Nyarko, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, has focused his research inside the poultry barn at the University of Connecticut, where microphones hang from the ceiling and every cluck, bawk and pok is recorded. He and Professor Michael Darre are trying to understand the language of chickens.

"This is not 'let's translate chicken to English,'" Darre said. "We are trying to find out their language and what their vocalizations mean."

There's a purpose behind this research, with great implications for the welfare of America's chickens. The ultimate goal is to create a black box of chicken linguistics that would monitor chatter in the hen house. Every bawk and cluck would be sampled and compared to a recorded library of chicken sounds. Cries that match known stress vocalizations would trigger an alarm, getting a farmer out of bed, if necessary, to right whatever was wrong.

"Every farmer has one goal, which is to maximize egg production or putting on meat," said Otu-Nyarko. "The earlier we see stress and remove it, the better." Read More

Trying to get sound science back into the animal rights debate will always be difficult. However, when talking about animal welfare, sound science should be ruling the day, but lately it hasn’t. If we want what’s best of our livestock, then decisions about how to raise them should be made based on good information. Anti-agriculture groups realized before we did that emotional arguments will trump rational ones and that has been the key to much of their success. As farmers and ranchers, we need to speak up on this issue and relate to the consumer how important proper animal care is. After all, proper animal welfare should make the animals feel more comfortable, not ourselves.

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