Dec 03 , 2019
Do you struggle with flighty chickens who aren't very personable? We have a lot of experience with this and are eager to share what we've learned!
One of the biggest benefits of having pet chickens is being able to interact with them on a personal level. Chickens who like to sit in your lap and be petted are extra special to us, and it takes some handling if they are going to learn to enjoy it.
The earlier you start handling and hand-feeding your chicks, the more likely they are to become tame, friendly pets. We think that the best way to accomplish this is with mealworms! Chickens of all ages go wild over mealworms, and it only takes them a few days of consistent feeding for them to get a hang of the routine.
First, we'd like to add a word of caution. Handling very young chicks too much too soon can stress them to the point of fatality. Be present, but keep handling to a minimum for the first few days of their lives.
At about 5 or 6 days old, you can start introducing mealworms. Be sure to crumble them up in very small pieces. Chicks raised by their mother hens are eating small bugs and seeds at this age. As long as the mealworm bits are small enough, it is a healthy protein for them to eat in addition to their starter ration. At first, you can sprinkle them in their food so they get accustomed. Once they know what they are, start offering them by hand. You'll be surprised how little time it takes for your chicks to start rushing to your hand every time you reach in the brooder! Keep this practice up as your chicks grow and you will be rewarded with tame, friendly pets. Bear in mind that some breeds, like Silkies, Orpingtons, Wyandottes are friendlier and more inquisitive than others.
If you get your new birds as adults who didn't grow up with much handling, taming them is much more difficult to do. But it is not impossible! For many, buying (or adopting) adult chickens is more practical because caring for baby chicks can be so demanding.
With adult birds that are shy you'll want to start out being very gentle. Sit near them and don't try to get them to come to you, just be present. Read a book or watch Netflix on your phone. Let them get used to you being around.
When they start to get more curious, you can break out the treats. We recommend dried mealworms! Sprinkle some on the ground without making any big, sudden movements. The timing depends mostly on the personality of your flock, but they will eventually learn that you have the goodies, and they'll start getting braver and coming closer.
Once they become more courageous, you can encourage them to come closer to you to get their treats. If they will come within six feet of you, gently encourage them to come to five feet to get their treats. Once they are comfortable with five feet, coax them to four. Be sure to take this process slowly. If you rush and they get scared, you will have to work harder to earn their trust the second time around.
If they seem particularly reluctant to approach, try squatting down and facing away from them. Don't make any sudden movements, just let them eat the treats you've offered. When they finish and start to disperse, stand up very slowly and go about your business. You want to drive the point home that they will always be safe when you offer them treats.
When your flock is comfortable eating treats at your feet, grab a handful of goodies and place your hand on the ground, outstretched. The chickens will be curious, but may not approach. This is usually the scariest step for chickens, and therefore the hardest hurdle to overcome. Just be patient! If they don't approach after a few minutes, you may need to go back a step or two.
Once one chicken gets tame, usually others follow suit. For this reason, it can be beneficial to the rest of the flock if you have one very tame chicken. Frequently in groups of adults, there will always be one who is less social then all the others, so fret not if you see this happen.
Make sure you do not have the motivation of handling them at this point. If you are constantly wanting to reach out and grab one of your birds, they will know! And they will subsequently keep their distance. Remember that chickens are prey animals, and keenly aware of any potential threats to their safety.
Eventually you will be able to squat down, hold your hand out, and watch as your birds eat right out of your hand. Patience will pay off!