Keeping chickens naturally comes with a range of duties and responsibilities. You need to meet your bird’s needs and requirements, after all. Ensuring they all remain happy, healthy, and safe is not easy; but it’s incredibly important nonetheless. But how do these birds like to be interacted with? Are they open to human contact and is this something you can look to do? I spent some time delving through the research to find out!
So, do chickens like being petted? Chickens generally like being petted, so long as you do so gently and respectfully. Chickens are easily spooked, so you will need to ensure there are no sudden movements and you only touch appropriate areas – such as down the back and on the breast area.
Keeping chickens is certainly a different experience to most other pets.
Many owners get into keeping as a means of getting eggs, but they can be kept for other reasons. They are very entertaining and rewarding to take care of, all in all.
While they are not always considered your typical pet, chickens are sentient animals (able to perceive or feel things) just like any other.
Chickens are capable of a range of feelings from showing affection to discomfort and there are a lot of reasons why you would want to do so.
In fact, there is a high correlation between the happiness of your chickens and how productive they are at laying eggs!
It can pay dividends to put in the extra effort to make your chickens as comfortable with your presence as possible.
If you show your chickens affection in the correct way, then they will become more confident and interactive when they are around you.
However, you shouldn’t necessarily treat a chicken like a cat or dog, you need to approach then calmly and gently, and on their terms.
Let us now take a closer look at petting these birds in general; from the benefits of doing so to how to do so correctly.
We will also be looking at holding and gaining the trust of your flock; so be sure to keep on reading to get all the information you need!
Are There Benefits To Petting Your Chickens?
Physical contact, when done the right way, can have some great benefits for both you and your backyard chickens.
Its important to first consider their natural, instinctive place.
Chickens are prey animals, so it comes as no surprise that they often prefer to spend their time hidden away from both human beings and other animals instinctively.
This is precisely why chickens in the wild will not let you get close to them. However, it is possible to tame your pet chickens over time.
Let us now take a closer look at the benefits of petting, for both keeper and bird alike!
Petting animals has long been shown to help humans relax and the same holds true for petting your birds.
The act of stoking your chicken’s feathers can lower your blood pressure and reduce the levels of cortisol in your blood, a key stress hormone.
Regular petting can also help form a strong bond between you and your chickens, they’ll get to know you over time and become more confident in approaching you.
This stress-relieving effect works the other way around too.
If you pet your hens correctly, they’ll feel happier and it will have the same stress-reducing effect on them.
Increased Laying and Tasting Eggs
A reduction in stress can result in increased egg production; a happier flock of chickens will produce more eggs than one that feels stressed or threatened.
Petting your chickens may even improve the taste and quality of their eggs.
There are many factors that play a part in the quality of eggs produced but increased stress in livestock has been shown to ‘taint’ the flavor of the produce that is farmed from them.
This may partly explain why eggs from battery farmed hens often don’t taste as rich as those from free-range hens.
Regular petting will also allow you to keep a close eye on your flocks’ general condition and health.
You will get an idea for differences in feather and skin quality and overall body composition between chickens, allowing you to detect if any individuals are in worse condition than others.
You can gently part their feathers to search for any parasites and you can feel around their pelvic bones for signs that your hen may be ready to lay.
If the spacing between her pelvic bones has increased, then she may be preparing to lay soon.
By taking a mental note of their health you can track individuals over time and may pick up on changes that wouldn’t be evident just by looking at them.
For example, if you notice that one hen has been gradually getting thinner then this could indicate that she has an underlying disease process.
Catching this early could mean the difference between losing a chicken or not.
Unwell or underweight chickens will often lose muscle mass across their keel bone (or sternum) – this is the bone to which their large breast muscles attach and it sits in the middle of their chest.
The breast muscles are usually very large in a fit and healthy chicken, so you’ll soon notice if they are losing condition in this area.
If you are concerned about your chicken, then take them to your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
Where Do Chickens Like To Be Petted?
The preferences of each individual chicken will be different, and some may not like to be petted at all, but most will enjoy being stroked down their back and scratched on the breast area.
Just be sure to go gentle and don’t ruffle their feathers, literally.
Apply minimal pressure and watch for how your chicken reacts.
If they look relaxed and content, then you are likely doing it correctly; if they seem uncomfortable or are trying to escape then don’t force the petting.
It’s important that your chickens always feel able to jump away if they need to, never trap, or hold a chicken too tightly.
Do Chickens Like To Be Held?
At some point, most keepers will need to catch and hold their chickens, whether it be to move them around or to examine them. But do chickens enjoy being held?
Some chickens may allow you to hold them with no complaints whereas other birds might be warier.
When holding them for the first time, many chickens will furiously flap their wings, kick, and try to escape.
If this is the case, gently lower them to the ground and release them.
Holding onto them too tightly or trying to re-adjust can cause harm to both the chicken and the handler.
Overtime, with the correct handling technique, many of your hens will get used to being held and may even enjoy it.
Never forcibly hold onto a chicken however, they may tolerate being held for a few minutes but as soon as they show signs of discomfort you should release them.
All chickens are individual, some will be more compliant than others.
How Do You Hold A Chicken Correctly?
There is an art to picking up and holding a chicken. It’s important to make them feel secure and supported, but not held too tightly.
Tempt your chickens close to your feet with some feed so they are close enough to pick up. Never chase a chicken as this will only make them feel scared and stressed.
Here is a guide to holding a chicken correctly:
- While staying low to the ground move slowly towards your chicken as to not appear too threatening, catch the chicken with both hands with one hand over each wing so that she can’t flap.
- Have the chicken facing outwards and place one hand under her breast running towards her tail. Tuck her between your arm and ribs, this will support her weight on top of your forearm. You can gently use your fingers to hook her legs so that she doesn’t kick too much.
- Having her gently pressed against your chest will prevent the inner wing from flapping. Your other hand is now free to pet or examine her.
- If your hen starts to flail or struggle at any point, gently lower her closer to the ground and allow her to jump away.
How Do You Get Your Chickens To Trust You?
Building up trust between your chickens is a gradual process. Many chickens will be timid at first and may run away when you come near them, but over time you can teach them that you are not a threat.
A great way to encourage your chickens to approach you is to make sure that they associate you with food.
Start by offering your chickens a small amount of their favorite food from you hand.
Don’t make any sudden movements and let them slowly approach you to eat.
Chickens are creatures of habit so by doing this often enough they will associate your presence with getting fed.
Try to spend time with your chickens each day at the same time, this way they will know when to expect you and will be calmer when you approach.
Eventually all the chickens may flock towards you when you enter their enclosure.
After this point you can begin to gradually stroke them as they eat and get them used to human contact.
This will again associate the act of being stroked with getting fed. The younger in a chicken’s life that you start this process, the more trusting of you they will become.
Frequent handling in this way will soon build up a close relationship between your chickens and you.
Always treat your chickens with respect and do everything on their terms; forcing them to interact with you will only deter them further.
As you spend more time with your hens then will come to accept your presence and not be startled by it.
As you can see, chickens can be much more than just a source of eggs.
Chickens can, with time, become as affectionate as any other pet so long as you treat them with respect and pet them on their terms.
And it does take time, a bit of patience and persistence.
But, a happy flock is generally a healthy flock and vice versa.
Having a meaningful relationship is also something that will make the entire process of keeping chickens, much more pleasurable. For both you are your birds alike.
Its absolutely something to strive for.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.