Backyard Chickens: Have You Hugged Your Chicken Today?

Treating your chickens as beloved pets can yield great results for both bird and owner.

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I got my first chickens on a whim. Why not? Fresh eggs every day sounded like a great idea and having poultry running around in the yard seemed cool. O.K., maybe not cool. But interesting.

As livestock, the chickens have certainly held up their end of the bargain. The eggs have exceeded expectations and the art of keeping chickens has turned into a surprisingly satisfying hobby. As pets though, they managed to sneak up on me.

In my hierarchy of pet esteem, they still fall well below cats or dogs. But I’ll be darned, these birds have personality and they’ve got fish beat by a nautical mile.

The eggs are still amazing and raising chickens is still fascinating to me (I missed out on 4H). Only now  it is uniquely satisfying to have the chickens peck at the back door or come running when I get home . Yeah, they’re still just chickens, but let’s see a hamster do that.

If your relationship with your backyard brood has been standoffish, it is not too late. Chickens can be tamed and may soon be perching on your knee or following you around the yard, telling everyone in earshot that you are the greatest.

It’s worth your while even if you are just in it for the eggs.  Socializing reduces stress within the brood, a prime cause of diminished egg production.

Here are a few helpful hints for making friends with that reticent chicken. 

Start Early

Some say that chicks will “imprint” to an owner who handles them regularly, regarding them as a de facto mother. Whether that is true or not, handling chicks on a daily basis will establish trust and perhaps a lifelong friendship. Starting after chicks are about 10 days old, carefully but firmly hold each bird for 5 or 10 minutes daily until they are ready to join the flock.

The Way to a Chicken’s Heart

The brood comes running when they see you’ve brought dinner, but scatter when you step too close? You’ve already been established as the bearer of good things, so take it a step further by hand feeding. Hold out a handful of scratch grains, meal worms or even table scraps and keep still. They will eventually succumb to temptation.

Keep a Firm Hand

When handling chickens, it is important they feel secure. Make sure the wings are held against the body or they will flap themselves into a frenzy. A firm, steady grip will establish you as a calming presence, making your chickens less likely to avoid you the next time they are approached.

Patience, Patience, Patience

It may take some time before they grow to trust you, especially when trying to socialize adult birds. Consistency and calm are essential. Regular visits for egg gathering mean you are already a familiar face. Spending a few extra minutes in the coop each day may be all it takes to win over those fine feathered friends.

Socializing the brood can be a winning project for kids, teaching patience, responsibility and the rewards of kindness. Make sure children are supervised and are properly trained in the care and handling of your chickens.

Remember though, chickens can carry disease. Make sure children do not nuzzle chicks or adult birds and always wash hands after contact.

That goes for you too.

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