Some chickens come running when they see you. Others squawk and run away or are just plain indifferent. Why are some chickens so friendly and others not? As prey animals, chickens are constantly fearful of potential predators. To raise a flock of friendly chickens you need to overcome their fear by proving that you are not a predator, but rather are safe and comfortable to be around. As chickens are innately inquisitive and sociable, the endeavor isn’t difficult, although it does require time and patience.
Here are 10 ways to raise a flock of friendly chickens:
When raising baby chicks in a brooder, spend extra time with them, over and above the time required to provide feed and water and clean the brooder. Give them time to get used to your presence. Chicks learn quickly and will bond with you as they grow. Spending time with already grown chickens works as well, but requires more time and patience than with chicks.
Have a Chat
Whenever you go near your birds, let them know you are coming by talking quietly as you approach, so your sudden appearance doesn’t startle them. They may not understand your words, but they will learn to recognize the sound of your voice. If you don’t know what to say, try imitating chicken sounds. Chickens talk a lot among themselves and will respond if you talk back.
Sit and Chill
Pick a quiet time of day and bring along a chair, stool, overturned bucket, or whatever you find handy and comfortable to sit on. Sitting gets you closer to the level of your chickens, rather than looming over them like some big predator. Just sit there and chill out. If you like, hum, sing peaceful songs, or strum a guitar. Let your flock get used to you just hanging around. After a while the most inquisitive flock members will come around to check you out.
Whenever you are around your chickens, use only slow, smooth, quiet movements. Avoid making loud sounds and big or sudden movements. When you are sitting quietly enjoying the company of your flock, avoid the temptation to pounce like a predator by unceremoniously grabbing a bird and picking it up. Start by just reaching your hand down and letting the chickens check it out. If a bird lets you stroke its feathers, it may be amenable to letting you reach underneath its body and lift it onto your lap.
Offering chicken-safe treats that your birds get only from your hand is good way to show your friendly intent. For chicks, starting at about two weeks of age, offer a few daily mealworms or tiny amounts of chopped tomato, strawberries, or grapes. Place the treat in the brooder on a paper plate or paper towel until the chicks figure out what it is. Then put some in your hand and wait patiently for the boldest chick to grab a piece.
With grown chickens, bring along a cup of treats during your sit-and-chill session. Put some in the palm of your hand, held down near the chickens’ head height. After a while, if you get no takers, drop a little on the ground in front of you. Next time try again with your hand. When chickens are eating out of your outstretched hand, place your hand in your lap and wait for them to hop up for a treat. Avoid letting anyone get its beak in the cup, which can lead to aggressive greediness and spilled treats.
Some chicks will hop into the palm of your hand, and some chickens will climb into your lap, of their own accord. Don’t force the issue with those that are reluctant, or they will associate the struggle with you as being unfriendly and unsafe. Initially, be satisfied to interact with the early responders. Others will soon become curious enough to follow suit. Don’t overdo handling baby chicks, as they tire easily.
When a chicken freely comes to you, try stroking the feathers on its back or under its chin. Some chickens really like to be petted, and will either jump into your lap for cuddling or beg to be picked up and petted. Roosters, especially, like to have their wattles gently rubbed.
Like a dog, cat, or any other pet, a chicken can learn to come when you call its name. Whenever you have a one-on-one conversation with a single chicken, repeat its name often. After a while, when you call the bird by name, it will come running.
Some breeds — particularly Silkies and Cochins — have a reputation for being naturally friendly. Within every breed, some individuals will be friendlier than others. Conversely, some individuals will be naturally aggressive and usually, but not always, will be roosters. Dealing with a mean rooster is no fun, and can be downright dangerous. Sometimes the only solution is to remove the offender from your flock.
Time and Patience
Although some chickens will befriend you with little or no effort on your part, others may take a good deal of time and patience. The more chickens you have, the more likely they are to be content to interact with one another and ignore you. The fewer chickens you have, the quicker they are likely to want to include you as a member of the flock. Either way, the wary flock members will be watching and eventually will become curious enough see what is attracting the others to you.
A friendly flock is fun to be around. Other fringe benefits include the fact that when you are in daily close contact with your chickens you can more readily gauge the health of individuals and more easily handle each for health checkups and procedures such as toenail trimming. One of the best fringe benefits of having a friendly flock is that it’s a super stress reliever for both you and your chickens.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens