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Bonding With Chicks

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Believe it or not, there are people out there who want to be friends with chickens. Is that you? You came to the right place! I have always had a strong attachment to animals and when I began chicken keeping, I wanted to have that same connection.  Turns out…chickens aren’t like most other pets.  I have raised many sets of chicks as well as adult hens and pullets. Over the years I have learned a lot about their behaviors. I love talking about bonding with chickens and I have a whole section about it in my book.  In this article I’ll talk about what bonding with chickens looks like from day one and what you can expect out of them.

Benefits of Bonding

Choosing breeds for your coop blog 2Aside from wanting pet chickens who love me, there are other reasons I like to bond with my chickens.  Having chickens who respect your presence helps create a calmer atmosphere.  The stress will be high if they are scared every time you enter their enclosure.  It also makes caring for them easier.  Have you ever played a game of chicken chase? It can be funny to watch but very frustrating! Sometimes they need to be treated for parasites, bumblefoot, injuries among many other things! Having chicken who trust you makes caring for their needs easier on everyone.

This next point might sound surprising but, one of my favorite parts about chicken keeping is the benefit on my mental health.  They have helped me through many difficult days just by letting me be with them in the yard while they search for bugs.  This isn’t just my opinion! I have received countless messages and video comments from my followers stating the same.  There is nothing like sitting in the grass on a nice sunny day with chickens quietly scratching and pecking (Scratch and Peck…get it?) around you. It’s even better when you have a few who prefer sitting on your lap or shoulder! The days of seeing chickens purely as livestock is gone as more and more people latch onto the idea of backyard chickens as pets.

Instincts

Chickens are at the bottom of the food chain.  Just about any other animal is a threat to them so their instinct is to be cautious of everything and everyone.  Unfortunately for you, they will could also consider you as a threat.  Even my most bonded chickens still have trust issues. Move too fast, they will dart away. Sneeze in their presence, they will scatter like a dropped bowl of sprinkles.  Most chickens won’t show affection like your dog or cat. Their minds are too preoccupied with survival instincts. That being said, you can still find ways to earn their friendship. All day long their minds think, “where is the food, where are the predators” over and over again. Of course, there are the chickens who don’t fall into that mold and will surprise you.  But for the most part, the way to their hearts is bringing them food, and not acting like a predator.

Bonding Methods

Choosing breeds for your coop blog 1Let’s start with young chicks because starting from day one is the easiest way to achieve a bond with your chickens.  Baby chickens have predator instincts from day one.  Your goal with chicks is to move slow, bring food, and don’t grab!  I know, I know. It is really hard to not just pick them up and carry them around. They are cute, fluffy, soft, and they make the cutest peeping noises.  If you reach into the brooder and pick them up, they will learn to dodge your hands.  They will scatter around when they see you coming. If your children get them out and don’t handle them gently, they will learn to avoid humans at all costs.  Instead of picking them up to suit my needs, I like to rest my hand at the bottom of the brooder with their chick feed in my hand.  When you give this a try, use your thumb to scratch the feed back and forth to encourage them to come eat.  It usually doesn’t take long for that to happen.  Shortly after they find the food, you will likely have one or two who will stand on your hand.  Gently pet them with your thumb when this happens.  If that scares them off, go back to just letting them eat.  Do this every day a few times a day.  Take them out of the brooder for play sessions. Get them used to you being the source of food and fun. When you do need to pick them up for one reason or another, let them come to you as much as you can before doing so.  When I use this method, I usually have chickens climbing my arm and jumping to my shoulder by a few weeks old.  As they get older, bring them better snacks such as grubs! Just be sure they have access to grit.

Choosing breeds for your coop blog 3If you are bringing home chickens who are a bit older or full grown, bonding will look a little different.  You probably won’t end up with chickens climbing up on your shoulder.  They are coming to you with preconceived ideas about the safety of human interaction.  You may have to spend more time getting them used to you.  The absolute best way I have found to win the love of a chicken is food.  It doesn’t even have to be anything special! Just feed them their chicken feed.  Sit calmly with them while you toss food their way.  As you do this daily, they will get more used to having you around and eventually they will eat from your hand.  There will always be chickens out there who prefer you stay away from them.  It is best not to force them into being with you. Slow and steady is the name of the game! Spend as much time as you can sitting calmly and feeding them.

As we start keeping chickens we see many pictures and posts from others snuggling their chickens.  Hopefully after reading this you have a good picture of what that truly looks like.  Chickens aren’t kittens who like to snuggle but they do have wonderful qualities that we can enjoy!  Take them time to get to know them and you will appreciate the effort for years to come.

Written by Nikki Husted for Scratch & Peck Feeds:

nikki bio photo scaledNikki Husted is the author of Chicken Keeping Pure and Simple and runs the social media channels @purelychickens on instagram, tiktok, youtube and facebook.  After deciding to stay home with her kids and quit her teaching career, she found that teaching people about chickens was just as fulfilling.  Her main goal is to share her love for animals and make chicken keeping easy for others.  

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