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Do chickens like attention?

Do chickens like attention or would they rather be left alone?

This is an interesting question I was asked during one of my recent chicken care classes. The short answer is “It depends. It depends on the chicken, and it depends on the human.”. Let’s dive deeper.

 

Before talking about the attention chickens like, let’s briefly discuss the attention chickens need. In addition to their basic care (food, cleaning, etc.), you are also responsible for their wellbeing and need to pay enough attention to know if one is bullied, wounded, or sick. Chickens are very good at hiding their symptoms, and often the only way to know that something is amiss is to notice changes in behavior. And this can be really hard to catch if you don’t know each of your chickens’ individual behavior as well as the flock dynamic. Therefore, it’s crucial that you spend some time every day with your chickens and pay attention to them.

Now the original question was more about what chickens like in terms of social interaction with their humans. Do they enjoy hanging out with us? Do they like to be handled and petted?

The best way is to ask the chickens directly. They don’t speak English, but they are pretty good at indicating if they like something or not. Watch their body language, and you will be amazed at how much they are telling you. And of course, use your common sense. You don’t need a PhD in chicken behavior to know that they detest being chased around and squeezed hard by a screaming predator.

If you spend a little time with your chickens, you will find that each one has a unique personality; some are more social than others and like different things. Chickens are usually friendly and curious when treated kindly. Lots dislike being picked up, but most would enjoy sitting at your side. Remember that they are birds and not primates like us, for whom touch, hugs, and cuddles are comforting gestures.

But they are individuals, and some do appreciate physical contact. Chai was one of our chickens who absolutely loved it. She would come running towards us when we entered the chicken yard, jump on our lap as soon as we sat down, and relish being petted. She would even climb on your shoulders if you let her!

So, ask your chicken what she likes. If you try to pet her and she crouches and runs away, she is probably not a big fan of touch, but if she stays around and even comes closer, she is telling you that you can continue petting her. Sugar, for example, hates being handled, and she is very clear about it. She likes to be with us but always at a distance and on her own terms. She will take treats from our hands but prefers that we toss them on the ground for her to pick up.

Also, a chicken who usually likes your attention may not want it all the time. She could simply not be in the mood because it’s time to lay an egg, or she feels grumpy because she is molting, or for a myriad of reasons that we are not even aware of.

But you want your chickens to like you!

While recognizing that chickens have their own personalities and desires, there are a few things you can do to earn their trust and have them like you more. Remember that chickens are smart and learn fast.

First, spend quality time with your chickens. Go sit quietly and relax in their yard. Try not to make sudden movements so you don’t intimidate them. They are curious and will come to investigate. You can scatter some treats around you to entice them to come closer. Watch and get to know them. Their behaviors and social interactions are fascinating to observe.

Every time you go into their yard, let them know you are coming so they associate your voice with food and care. Talk to them softly and move slowly when you’re around them to build trust. And bring treats! Chickens love treats, and they will come running. Sprinkle the treats on the ground, and over time, place the food closer to you. Eventually, offer the treats in your hand and see if they will take them from you. When they do, it means they trust you. After a while, you will see that they come to you even when you don’t have treats. Most chickens do like the attention.

I often get asked which breeds are more friendly and if one should get baby chicks so they could form a better bond with them. There are breed traits that you can find in a catalog, but remember that each chicken is an individual, and there is no guarantee that they are as tame and lovable as advertised. Also, there is no window of opportunity when it comes to bonding with your chickens. A chicken can grow to love you no matter what age you get them. You do not need to purchase very young chicks to have them become attached to you. You can start bonding with a bird at any age.

All our chickens have been rescued from different situations; they all arrived at different ages, and they all learned that they are safe with us. They all come running when we enter their yard except for Summer who walks. They follow us around in the yard. And if we settle down at one place, most will settle down around us. Our three musketeers will be on us, pecking at our shoes, clothes, and everything shiny (even eyeballs if they can reach them, LOL!). After seeing that we don’t have treats, Sidonie and Sugar will lay near us, while Truffle and Summer will go back under their favorite bush to nap.

In short, treat your chickens like any of your pets. Don’t relegate them to a corner of your backyard. Give them plenty of attention, particularly to the ones who appreciate it, and give space to the ones who need it.

And if you want to bring it to the next level, consider teaching your chickens a few tricks. It’s quite fun and very rewarding for both the chicken and the human! See how Marjo became the Queen of Hearts.

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