STORRS, Conn. | For hundreds of hours, Ebenezer Otu-Nyarko has been studying "pok-cluck-cluck," "cluck-bawk-bawk" and "cluck-cluck-cluck."
It might earn him an advanced degree.
Otu-Nyarko, a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, has focused his research inside the university’s poultry barn, 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."
Research shows chickens have about 24 vocalizations.
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.
The researchers also say their work could help settle the dispute between animal-rights supporters and large-scale animal farmers over housing chickens in small cages.
In courtrooms, state legislatures and corporate boardrooms nationwide, the Humane Society of the United States is fighting to ban "battery cages," small enclosures that don’t let the chicken stand or flap its wings.
The society was a major sponsor of California’s Proposition 2 ballot measure, approved by a landslide in November 2008, which will ban small hen cages at California egg farms by 2015.
A similar fight may come to Ohio, where the farming lobby is on the defensive against a threat by the Humane Society to bring a ballot initiative on animal welfare.