How Do You Properly Handle And Tame Chickens?

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

“I’ve recently inherited my grandmother’s small farm, and I’m thinking about raising chickens. I’ve never handled poultry before, and I’m a bit nervous about how to properly care for them and keep them tame. Can you give me some detailed advice on how to handle and tame chickens?” Thanks so much, Emily, Portland, Oregon, USA.

How to Properly Handle and Tame Chickens: A Comprehensive Guide

Hey Emily! Congratulations on inheriting your grandmother’s farm in Portland. It’s fantastic that you’re considering raising chickens – they can be wonderful, rewarding pets and productive farm animals. Don’t worry about your lack of experience; with the right approach, you’ll be a chicken-whisperer in no time. Let’s explore the ins and outs of properly handling and taming chickens.

Understanding Chicken Behavior

Before we dive into handling techniques, it’s crucial to understand chicken behavior. Chickens are social creatures with a hierarchical structure often referred to as the “pecking order.” They’re naturally cautious of new things and people, but they’re also curious and can become quite friendly with consistent, gentle interaction.

Chickens communicate through various vocalizations and body language. Learning to read these cues will help you interact with them more effectively. For instance, a chicken lowering its head and spreading its wings might be feeling threatened, while soft clucking often indicates contentment.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

The first step in taming chickens is to create a comfortable, secure environment for them. This includes:

  • A clean, spacious coop with proper ventilation
  • Secure fencing to protect from predators
  • Ample roosting bars and nesting boxes
  • Clean water and nutritious feed available at all times
  • A dust bath area for natural parasite control

When chickens feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings, they’re more likely to be receptive to human interaction.

Approaching Chickens

Emily, when you’re ready to start interacting with your chickens, remember these key points:

  1. Move slowly and speak softly to avoid startling them
  2. Approach from the side or front, as approaching from behind can be scary for chickens
  3. Crouch down to their level to appear less intimidating
  4. Avoid direct eye contact at first, as this can be perceived as threatening
  5. Offer treats from an open palm to encourage positive associations with your presence

Handling Techniques

Proper handling is crucial for both your safety and the chicken’s comfort. Here’s how to pick up a chicken safely:

  1. Approach the chicken calmly and place one hand on its back
  2. Slide your other hand under its body, supporting its weight
  3. Gently but firmly hold the chicken against your body, supporting its feet
  4. Keep the wings tucked against its body to prevent flapping

Remember, Emily, practice makes perfect. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempts aren’t smooth – chickens can sense your nervousness, so try to stay calm and confident.

Taming Techniques

Taming chickens is all about building trust and positive associations. Here are some effective techniques:

1. Regular Interaction

Spend time with your chickens daily. Sit quietly in their area, allowing them to become accustomed to your presence. As they become more comfortable, they may approach you out of curiosity.

2. Treat Training

Offer treats like mealworms, scratch grains, or chopped vegetables. Start by scattering treats on the ground, then gradually offer them from your hand. This helps chickens associate you with positive experiences.

3. Gentle Petting

Once chickens are comfortable taking treats from your hand, try gently stroking their backs or chest. Some chickens enjoy being petted, while others may take more time to warm up to this.

4. Talking to Your Chickens

Believe it or not, chickens can recognize and respond to human voices. Speaking softly to your chickens can help them become accustomed to you.

5. Individual Attention

Spend one-on-one time with each chicken. This can help build stronger bonds and make handling easier.

Dealing with Skittish or Aggressive Chickens

Emily, you might encounter some chickens that are particularly nervous or even aggressive. Here’s how to handle these situations:

Skittish Chickens:

  • Be extra patient and move even more slowly
  • Spend more time simply being present without trying to interact
  • Use especially enticing treats to encourage approach
  • Consider using a “scratch board” – a long board with treats on it – to bridge the distance between you and the chicken

Aggressive Chickens:

  • Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves and gloves
  • Avoid showing fear or backing away, as this can reinforce aggressive behavior
  • Use a stick or broom to establish boundaries if necessary
  • Consider separating aggressive chickens from the flock temporarily

Health Checks and Handling for Care

As you become more comfortable handling your chickens, it’s important to incorporate regular health checks. This involves:

  1. Examining the comb and wattles for discoloration or lesions
  2. Checking the beak, nares (nostrils), and eyes for discharge
  3. Feeling the crop (located at the base of the neck) to ensure it’s not impacted
  4. Inspecting the vent area for signs of parasites or abnormal discharge
  5. Checking the feet and legs for scaliness, bumblefoot, or other issues

Regular handling for health checks not only keeps your chickens healthy but also helps them become more accustomed to being handled.

Socializing Chickens with Other Pets

If you have other pets, Emily, it’s important to introduce them to your chickens carefully. Here are some tips:

  • Always supervise interactions between chickens and other animals
  • Introduce pets to chickens gradually, starting with visual contact through a fence
  • Train dogs to respect the chickens’ space
  • Be aware that some animals, like cats, may view chickens as prey and should be kept separate

Creating Enrichment Activities

Tame chickens are more likely to seek out human interaction. Encourage this by providing enrichment activities:

  • Hang a cabbage or lettuce for chickens to peck at
  • Create a “chicken playground” with perches at various heights
  • Provide dust baths with different substrates like sand, dirt, and wood ash
  • Offer treats in puzzle feeders to stimulate foraging behavior

Understanding Chicken Body Language

As you spend more time with your chickens, Emily, you’ll start to recognize their individual personalities and body language. Here are some common signals:

  • Relaxed posture, soft clucking: Content and comfortable
  • Fluffed feathers, squatting: Submissive behavior, often seen in hens ready to mate
  • Raised hackles, extended neck: Alarmed or aggressive
  • Tail wagging: Can indicate happiness or agitation, depending on context
  • Dust bathing: Natural behavior for cleaning and parasite control

The Importance of Consistency

Consistency is key when handling and taming chickens. Establish a routine for feeding, cleaning, and interaction. This helps chickens feel secure and builds trust. Remember, taming takes time and patience. Some chickens may become friendly within days, while others might take weeks or even months.

Final Thoughts…

Emily, handling and taming chickens is a rewarding experience that requires patience, gentleness, and consistency. Start by creating a comfortable environment, approach your chickens calmly, and use positive reinforcement through treats and gentle handling. Remember to respect each chicken’s individual personality and pace. With time and dedication, you’ll likely find your chickens becoming friendly, interactive pets.

Thank you for reaching out with your question. It’s wonderful to see someone taking such a thoughtful approach to chicken care. I’m confident that with these techniques, you’ll soon be enjoying a wonderful relationship with your new feathered friends. Good luck with your chicken adventure in Portland, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any more questions as you embark on this exciting journey!

Whether you're a complete beginner and don't know where to start, or you're a seasoned chicken keeping professional and just want practical "how to" advice on tap our guide to keeping chickens has got you covered...

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