Breeding for Tameness


May 12, 2016
Dewitt, IL
I hope this hasn't been covered a million times and I missed it...but..

Out of curiosity, has anyone selectively bred their flock just to be docile and friendly towards people? Out of all my chicks, there's always a few that are noticeably less flighty of me and much more relaxed than the rest.

These, of course, quickly become favorites.

If any of you have seen the documentary of the silver fox breeding program in Russia, where they had significant changes in temperament over even a short time, it really got me wondering if the same thing could be achieved in selectively bred chickens.
I'm sure it can. I certainly do that with roosters. If nothing else, keeping and breeding all friendly chickens would teach the younger ones that you are a "friend".
I think it would be a neat project. I'm raising my first roosters now and plan to only keep my favorite. If they show aggression towards people in any way shape or form, they are out.

With the batch of assorted breed young ones that I have now, there's 2 EE pullets that are so absolutely timid and flighty that they have made nearly the whole group nervous and wild as well because they go crazy when I'm anywhere near them. I've handled and hand-fed these since they were days old. Seems like I have bad luck with EE's because the last ones I had were the exact same way and still are to this day.
Absolutely. Temperament is an an important selection factor for me. I find that the high strung hens contribute heavily to aggressive sons, so watch the personality of both parents.
Thank you for your reply! The roosters I have now are all the absolute most flighty. I'm hoping they calm down enough to where I feel like I get a good start on the tameness, otherwise I'll have to just breed and select a new cockerel out of the batch.
Sussex are friendly and curious. Chantaclers are friendly. The Basque Hen is considered the friendliest chicken in the world. maybe you just need to pick a different breed.
Any breed can become flighty or person aggressive through not taking inherited genetics into account. I wanted to know why people were having problems with their roosters so I started lurking on other forums that have lots of roosters, that is when I learned just how amazing chicken behaviors are... so many are genetically linked. I also suspected we create issues not understanding bird body language, bird thinking versus human thinking, and how we can create and reinforce bad behaviors... this was also confirmed hanging out in other places.

Things I have learned:
Breed for what you want applies to behavior... never use a hen or rooster no matter how perfect in other respects that attacks people unless you have reason to believe this behavior was learned (animal mistreated) or no choice. You are going to have what is called "man eaters" birds in a higher percentage.

Birds that are gentle but whose offspring seem to produce hostile (towards human) offspring should probably be dropped from breeding program.

Most folks do not breed egg eater hens as they have seen that trait passed down. If you do want to you need to build a roll away nest box so you get the eggs and try and break the cycle by hand raising and keeping the offspring of egg eaters away from hens that might teach that bad habit. But many swear the problem is genetic others swear it is learned, nutrition based, and people not collecting eggs regularly.

Observe your birds, what behaviors are healthy, normal, what ones exhibit unhealthy behaviors... example birds that do not preen should not be bred. Birds that preen normally are usually healthy animals. The behavior is apparently genetic.

If using birds with behaviors you don't want but crossed with ones you do, cull heavily the offspring based on the behaviors you don't want and if possible back breed the keepers to parent with behavior you like.

I just find it amazing what can be bred for... broody versuses not broody, how they react to stress (do they run, fly, turn and face it, play dead?), flighty versus not flighty, human aggressive versus human gentle, bird gentle versus bird aggressive, and more.

I am also convinced though from roaming around in general on bird behaviors in captive pet breeds or domestic breeds like chickens we may create problems by not understanding bird thinking or bird body language. Chickens do do things other species of birds do concerning general body language, plus they have some unique moves, calls too... I found a video were the keeper showed the difference in body language between two roosters one a "man eater" and one not, he showed how to tell you are about to be attacked even.

I think we may accidentally stress birds out into being less friendly sometimes too. I know parrots are not Chickens but I started watching body language and training videos aimed at not stressing parrots out in the bonding traing process and realized some of the no nos probably apply to chickens, also big bird body language things they both do. I have adjusted my interactions with my hens and the result has been friendlier hens. A lot of training practices are based on making an animal do what you want by what the animal might understand as aggression from it's perspective so you don't get the results you want... to train gently you got to understand the critter, humans try to take short cuts, if I have learned anything over the years patience and understanding the animal on it's terms are the two keys to animals responding correctly. We boast how darn smart we are but never ever bother to learn our pet's language and then wonder why it all goes pear shaped... just saying the more you observe, the more you try and understand the behaviors they do the better you can train any animal becuase you begin to think more like it does, see the world a bit different.

So when I want my hens to come check out a treat or food I put down I bend over peck the ground with my hand and make a call mother hens use for chicks to come and get it. I then step back, usually they run right over to see what treat I have just put down.

I have taught them "go home" means go into their coop with saying it every night while offering a treat reward. The up is it need not be chicken bed time for them to understand I want them to go into the coop early for some reason. They are not always happy about early bedtimes but they will go inside their coop.

Are my birds perfect, no, but in all cases where my birds have done things I don't want them doing behavior wise I am usually boneheading something, and once I figure out what has stressed my birds, or what my birds need that I am not supplying the problem goes away.

Just my rambling thoughts on the nature vs nurture battle, which need not ever be a battle.
3riverschick - I have had a lot of suggestions about breeds and my own experiences seem to show that there is just so much variance from bird to bird-even in the same breed.

Lauravonsmurf - Wow, thank you for the in-depth reply! I've seen that same video! I love how it shows the rooster pretending to be 'busy' by pecking when in reality he's paying attention to every single movement made. Behavior like that is so interesting.

I'm honestly surprised about the behavior opinions. Anyone locally I ask seems only interested in breeding for color, or egg production. They look at me funny when I mention other things and I didn't even think about how you could breed for even more traits, like to eliminate egg eating. It really is amazing.

I enjoy interacting with my flock and having them near me, it's just my opinion. I know many farmers and people with chickens likely think it's weird that mine are also my pets, but to each their own. To spend evenings doing casual yard work and having my hens follow me like the pied piper is so cute and amusing. I don't like when they are so afraid that they run when I even act like I'll walk their way. I'm afraid to let my roosters grow up in case they take 'my' hens away and change their attitude of me lol. ( never kept roosters )

I'm going to test out hatching eggs and raising chicks from my own flock by breeding only my favorites. Even if they're 'barnyard mixes', it'll be interesting to learn and I can keep a partial mixed flock to experiment on as insight for when I want to start in on a breed of choice.
I think a more whole bird approach is generally practiced by people who need their birds to behave specific ways, I also discovered the people with the "aggressive" breeds as a rule cull heavily un-tame type birds as they are unsafe to handle. What this means for the folks like you and me is we all should be considering the birds personalities and behaviors just as carefully as their feather genetics, or egg laying genetics or meat potential when breeding or we might accidentally breed problem behaviors into our flocks, it also means we can breed out behaviors too. I think people get caught up on the physical aspect of the birds and forget about the bird's brain, what is an instinct, how they think versus how we think, and what they are capable of learning too... honestly humans expect the "dumb animal" to do all the learning, learn our body language, learn our vocal sounds and so on, and my favorite just know they are not suppose to say not bite, or claw a child who is pulling their tail for example... just beyond illogical to me this sort of one sided thinking from supposably cognitively advanced species who claims to be in charge. Silly humans we be. So I try and learn new things about bird behavior/body language any species when I can and then watch to see if chickens do that too.

I tried warning people on BYC that letting roosters sit on their shoulders might be causing some of the aggression they were experiencing... as that happens with parrots too, some birds think they are now the dominate animal in the human-bird pecking order because the owner is letting them roost on their shoulder which places the bird's eye level higher than the owner's and sometimes triggers the parrot to exert it's perceived body language dominance because of it's hardwired instinct way of thinking... got booed and chastised for suggesting they consider not doing that, but then I am not getting attacked by my chickens nor ever had my pet parrot from forever ago attack me either.

I prefer teaching birds to roost on the forearm so you can control the human-bird pecking order.

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