Senior Biology Major Teaching Chickens Where to Peck

by Public Relations | Oct 11, 2017

Oct. 11, 2017

Claire Jackman

Claire C. Jackman of Strongsville, Ohio, a senior majoring in biology and minoring in psychology and mathematics, is teaching chickens where to peck as part of her senior research project under the direction of Dr. James Kellam, associate professor of biology.

Jackman has set up a small chicken coop with 16 chickens on campus as her research laboratory. “I am feeding half of my chickens a daily dose of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid,” she explained.  “I am training all of the chickens three times a week to learn a cognitive task. I have a lot of raw data to analyze, but my hypothesis was that the chickens receiving the DHA would be able to learn the task more quickly than the control chickens.”

So how is she teaching the chickens? “I have three shapes of relatively the same size and color, a triangle, circle and square,” she explained. “My goal is to teach the chickens that I want them to peck the triangle. I started with heaping food onto the triangle and tapping next to it while recording how many times the chicken pecked. I then moved on to placing one piece of food and tapping and recording the number of pecks and the temperament of the bird. Then I would tap next to the triangle with no food on it and reward the chicken with food from my other hand if they pecked the triangle. I record the number of times they have successful pecks with each kind of triangle variation and I also record the amount of errors they have when they peck at the wrong shapes. I will create a spectrum of these results and create a grading system so I can analyze the progress of the chickens quantitatively as well as qualitatively with my observations of their behaviors.”

“I am also recording head circumference at the beginning and end of the experiment and chest circumference and body weight each week in order to see if there is any correlation between size and task performance,” she added.

Why would she want to teach chickens to peck selectively? “I am interested in cognitive psychology as well as neuroscience, so I wanted to see if supplements marketed to improve memory and cognitive function truly work and if the results could be seen through using young chickens as a model,” she concluded.

The chickens stay in the coop at all times except when she is training them individually. They can scratch in the grass in the coop or go into the loft during the day. However, she locks them into the loft at night in case a raccoon were to somehow get in the enclosure.

Jackman said that her research will help her with her future work and education. “Any research experience is valuable but I am especially interested in conducting cognitive research in the future as a career.” She plans to present the results of her research at the annual student research conference on campus in the spring.

Jackman, a 2014 graduate of Strongsville High School, chose to study at Saint Vincent because of the small school environment and the excellent science facilities.

She has been very active at Saint Vincent as a work/study assistant in the Office of Alumni Relations and as an Ambassador in the Office of Admission. She has completed internships at Palmer’s Farm as a seasonal farm intern and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a student workforce trainee.

Jackman, who currently serves as president of the Student Government Association executive board, previously served as a senator and as executive secretary of SGA.

She has been honored with membership in Alpha Lambda Delta (for excellent academic achievement in her first year of study), Alpha Chi (for scholarship as a junior and senior), Beta Beta Beta biology honor society and Psi Chi national honor society in psychology.

She has also been active on the Dance Team, Women’s Rugby Club, Orientation Committee and Catholic Relief Services. She completed a Campus Ministry-sponsored service trip to China and Taiwan in 2015.

After she completes her undergraduate studies in the spring, she plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology.

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Photo: Claire Jackman, a senior biology major at Saint Vincent, is teaching chickens to selectively peck as part of her senior research project.

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