By Linda Riggins / The Old Farmer’s Almanac
“I’ve been hypnotizing chickens since I was nine, when the county 4-H agent in Milwaukee showed me how,” says Dr. Doris White, a Bernardsville, New Jersey, chicken farmer who is also professor of elementary education at William Paterson College and a chicken hypnotism instructor. “When he taught me, I thought everyone knew how to hypnotize chickens.” She was wrong. She points out that “some farmers are still surprised that a person can hypnotize chickens. But after they see me demonstrate how it’s done, they go home and try it themselves.”
Dr. White shows her audiences two methods of hypnotizing chickens. The Oscillating Finger Method is probably the easier of the two. Place the bird on its side with a wing under its body and hold it down gently. Make sure its head is flat on the table. To hypnotize the bird, use one finger of the free hand, moving the finger back and forth in front of the bird’s beak from its tip (without touching it) to a point that is about four inches from the beak. Keep the finger in a line parallel to the beak.
The second technique is the Sternum Stroke Method. Gently put the bird on its back. It may be necessary to use a book, purse, or other item to keep the bird from rolling onto its side. Hold the bird down. Lightly massage the bird’s sternum, using the slightly spread thumb and index finger of one hand to do the stroking.
(Editor’s Note: A third technique, discovered buried in the files of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, is the Chalk Line Method. Draw a straight chalk mark about a foot long. Hold the chicken with its beak on one end of the line, staring straight out at the chalk mark. In a few seconds, the chicken will be hypnotized.)
“A bird will stay hypnotized for a couple of seconds, minutes, or hours,” says White, although in her demonstrations they’re “out” for only minutes. Regardless of the method used, a sudden movement or loud noise will bring the chicken out of the hypnotic trance.
White adds, “Pheasants go out faster than any other bird. Wild pheasants are very nervous and high-strung, and usually very easy to hypnotize.” In her demonstrations, she is protective of pheasants, because after they come out of hypnosis, they are likely to hurt themselves unless they are carefully monitored.
Noting that domestic birds are more difficult to hypnotize than wild ones, she suggests that one reason may be that wild birds are using a survival skill when they submit to hypnosis.
White has reported the results of her experiments at several New Jersey science conferences and fairs. In one of her studies of 11 birds, the heart and respiration rates, when measured five minutes after hypnosis, were significantly lower than in the prehypnotic state. For example, in a Bantam White Cochin cock, the heart rate before hypnosis was 457 beats per minute and after hypnosis 372. The rates for this bird’s respiration were 22 and 20 breaths per minute, respectively. The temperatures of nine of these birds went down or were unchanged in the posthypnotic state.