My chicks are skittish!


In the Brooder
May 2, 2015
This is my first time raising chicks. I got 9 hens from 3 white silkies, 2 black silkies, 2 plymouth rock, 2 brahma. They are 3.5 weeks old. Anytime my hand goes into the brooder to change their feed or water, or to try to socialize them, they all freak out and huddle in a corner together! I have 2 young girls so I researched breeds and got baby chicks so they would be a friendly addition to our family. I found a link in this forum on how to socialize baby chicks but that started when they were days old. I read about the trick to mash a boiled egg and put it in the palm of your hand, as well as meal worms. (I went to town and forgot to buy eggs--and I'm out!) So I went to Tractor Supply this morning and got a bag of meal worms, put them in my palm, and left my hand in there for a few minutes. They got closer to my hand but didn't take the meal worms. So I put some meal worms in their feed so they could figure out that they're a yummy snack, then plan to go back later on to put some in my palm and see if that works better. What else do you guys recommend? Being that they're "older" I'm not sure what to do.

Thanks in advance!
Just keep doing what your doing. The older they get the more food driven they will be. My girls were the same up until about 5-6 weeks old. Now they follow me around the yard! And they are only 8 weeks now! Be patient!
They aren't necessarily being "skittish". They are babies with a strong survival instinct. They have no mother hen to scurry under when they are spooked. A couple of times a day a big, unidentifiable being approaches the only place they know and hands come down at them from above - their fear of overhead predators is instinctual. Their reaction is perfectly normal. They have no place to hide so they corner and cuddle. Sometimes we see pictures on the forum of chickens sitting on people's laps, sleeping in their beds, or interacting with their owners in other ways and we want that too. But they don't come out of the egg that way.

If you want pet chickens then food is the great motivator. And time. Lots of time. To them everything is big and scary. Expecting them to be overjoyed instead of nervous and frightened at this age is asking an awful lot from them. Be patient, be calm, be consistent, and be ready with food. And understand that in your new flock, you have 9 distinct personalities. Out of that 9, some will become tolerant but aloof. Some will never be comfortable with human interaction. And if you're very lucky, you'll get one or two really friendly, people loving birds.
The instinctual fear of things approaching from above can be overcome by approaching the chicks from the side. Slowly slip your hand inside and reach for them from the side at floor level.

How is the climate where you live? If it's warming as it is where I live, I recommend installing your chicks in their coop right now. They might need heat at night for a while longer, but if the days are in the high 70s, they should be fine.

With a lot of extra room (with nine chicks a plastic tote is likely very cramped by now) they will be far less likely to react to you with as much fear as when they have nowhere to run and hide. Their stress level will be a lot lower, and they will begin to run toward you instead of away from you, especially if you offer treats. Their reaction should be, "Here comes the food-bearing human, let's get some!"
We had our brooder in our living room, lots of interaction with us. We handled them at least twice a day for inspection and lap time. We kept our chicks in this brooder to the age of 4 weeks, then out to the coop. They a 7 weeks old now and when we enter the coop or run they come up to us to check us out.
That is one reason I moved them into the master bathroom, so they would get more interaction. They have definitely warmed up some with using the meal worms. I have been practicing slipping my hand in slowly down the side of the brooder for the past couple days so as not to startle them.

I live in Coastal Virginia so the weather here is back and forth. We had perfect highs in the 70s one day, then we were 40-50 degrees and rainy the next day. I too have been wanting to take them out of the plastic tub but the coop is not complete yet. Do you have another recommendation? I plan to move them outside as soon as this weather decides what it's going to do.

Thank you all for the replies!
For the first week I sat for hours with them talking, picking them up and back down and just handling them constantly. I had one, Penny, that needed a different approach. If I open the door and just sit there she will come to me now. This is my first time with chickens. Definitely learning as I go.

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