Naturally, chickens are apprehensive of humans. They have every right to be, don’t you think? They are fearful. They are cautious. They are skittish. It takes time for them to become accustomed to their caretakers and human family. They need to develop a bond with you and trust that they are safe in your presence. It also takes time for them to accept you into their flock. Chicken, just like humans, have their own personalities. Some enjoy being handled, others prefer to sit near you and others are entirely aloof to any handling. This is the case with all flocks.
We have a mixed flock in a many ways. Not only do we have different breeds, we are blessed with multiple personalities as well as some very lovable chickens and others who could care less. Two of our chickens, Autumn and Dolly; were purchased when they were 4 months old. The others we raised from the beginning as day old chicks. Over time, Dolly has become incredibly lovable and Autumn is never interested in human contact. She is entirely content with her chicken family. They meet all her needs. Tilly and Sunshine enjoy being handled as well as Feathers and Fifi. Dottie Speckles enjoys sitting on my lap but is always in a hurry to get somewhere. As soon as she sits, she is off onto the next adventure.
As expected, it is easier to train day old chicks. Spending time with them from the beginning, handling them frequently, observing them and teaching them how to roost, drink and eat are certainly bonding experiences. The baby chicks imprint on you as their parent. As the chicks grow, so does the bond. It is only natural that a loving relationship develops between the chicks and their human family. However, this does not mean that you cannot train an old bird new tricks.
I am a firm believer that personalities cannot be changed. Therefore, even an unaware chicken may be a snuggler and not even realize it! It is up to you to “activate” that part of your chicken’s brain. If you follow the techniques below on a regular daily basis, by the end of the month, you should soon discover who enjoys human company more than the others. There are four essential parts of creating the right environment for training your flock.
Set the Mood/Ambiance for Training
1. Get comfortable. Have a seat where you can sit and spend some time, at least 20 minutes with your flock. It can be a plastic chair, a couple bales of hay, whatever you prefer. Just somewhere you can sit and be still. Do not move around. Do not make large sudden movements.
2. Quiet times. Be sure you are in the coop during quieter times. Not first thing in the morning, when the chickens find they need to frantically inspect the run for any new bugs that have arrived since they went to bed. I find it is best in the late afternoon. Be sure there is nothing around the coop that could be potentially scary for the flock. Put the dog inside. Turn off noisy machinery, radios and the like. Create a zen-like atmosphere for their training.
3. Treats: I suggest grapes and raisins. Only share these treats with the chickens when you are ready to sit down in the coop. At no other times should they receive these treats. Condition the flock to know that these are special and only available when you are present. You’ll see, soon enough, they will practically throw themselves at you to get one of these sweet treats!
4. Talk it up. Talk to them like they are newborn babies. Let them get used to your voice. Repeat certain phrases and words to them. This helps their brains connect your words with their feeling safe and getting treats.
Begin to Train your Chickens
1. Enter your coop and take a seat. Keep the treats in a small cup in your lap. Gently call the flock over one by one. If they are at first hesitant, drop a few raisins close to your feet and remain still and quiet. Once they come over to investigate, gently speak to them. Drop a couple more. Then put a couple in your hand and place it low by their heads. See if any will take it from your hand. Keep doing this everyday if possible. After a few days, the flock should recognize what you are doing and come to expect your visits.
2. Once they are comfortable eating out of your hand, during the next time they eat out of your hand, see if they will let you gently stroke the feathers on their backs. Keep doing this for a few days.
3.. Once the flock is comfortable eating out of your hand and being petted at the same time, place a couple raisins or grapes on your lap and wait. Don’t be surprised if some of them jump up and eat. Pet their feathers on their backs. Keep doing this until they are comfortable.
4. Finally, after they are comfortable on your lap, try to pick up one of the chickens. With your hands wrapped around their wings and your thumbs over the tops of the wings, gently guide them to your lap and reward them with a grape or raisin.
It does take time and dedication on your part, but yes, you can train new and old chickens to discover and enjoy time with their human family. After the chickens become familiar with you, then you can introduce other family members and train the chickens to like them using the same steps that you did. With a lot of time and patience, you will soon discover at least one snuggler in your flock.
As always after handling your chickens, be sure to change your clothing and wash your hands thoroughly. Also wash your face, if you were lucky enough to get some chicken hugs!