Teaching chicks to chill


In the Brooder
8 Years
Dec 7, 2011
Sebec, ME
We got 4 new Ameraucana (they came from McMurray though so I wouldn't be shocked if they turn out to be Easter Eggers, either way my daughter requested the chickens that lay the colored eggs so we're happy no matter what they really are). We've handled them daily, the first 3 weeks their brooder was in the house in a busy area where we talked to them constantly. But they are still super skittish. Every time I pick one up they do their distress "mama help me" chick call. I bring them treats and they all run and hide -- I just can't seem to get them to chill and relax around us. We've moved them to the garage now and I still pop in to see them regularly and talk to them and handle them but they still freak out.

What else can I do? This is the third batch of chicks we've raised and I've never had chicks that are so freaked out by being handled and just being around us in general.

This is our first batch from a hatchery is that the difference? All of our other chicks were day old but had been raised on farms or by local breeders before we got them.
Hi ScienceTchr--

Could be that you nailed it-- and could also be that the breed or strain is flightier than the ones that you are used to.....
Hopefully you can bring them around with time and patience and ....meal worms.... Maybe with a daughter and a busy household, it is overwhelming for the chicks and you need to move in slow motion around them....

Also, recently I read that approaching chicks from the top terrifies them...so if your brooder is deeper than you have used previously and they don't see you coming or hear your voice...they may go into fight-or-flight "we are being attacked" overdrive as you approach and their adrenalin doesn't dissapate quickly.
Mine have done the very same thing in the past. At some point with persistence on our part (and an ample supply of treats...sunflower seed) they came around. I think that the turning point came when they were finally willing to eat out of an outstretched hand a few times while we crouched to their level. We didn't force the issue, and went slowly so that they would trust us before we started reaching out to touch them. Once they were comfortable with that we picked them up, held on to them lightly but firmly, and offered food. After a few minutes they calmed down and took the treats. There are still a few who don't want much to do with us, but they all now recognize us as a dominant food source. This is helpful when we need to corral them, as we can walk up to any bird and they squat for us. So, patience and slow progress determined by the birds is what worked for us.
Here's whats worked for me.

I catch each one daily - usually several times a day. I'm as slow and deliberate about the catch as possible so there isn't a lot of running around being chased by "The Hand". Once I have one I handle it very slowly and gently and talk softly to it. I try and not allow any flapping because that seems to trigger their 'hysteria'. I keep one hand over their wings if necessary. Mine rarely try to flap while in my hands anymore. I read somewhere that laying them on their backs for a few moments will have some sort of calming effect and will cause them to associate being held with the calm feeling..... but my experience with that was about 50/50 between a happy upside down chick dozing off in my hand and a panicked chick nearly giving itself a heart attack. So ... don't know about that. When I put them back in the brooder I make sure that I've got them situated in my hand so that I keep control of their wings and feet - just sort of sitting on my fingers with my thumbs over their backs. If they struggle to get away, or try to flap or jump, I close my hands slightly to hold them a little closer until they are still. Once they are still, I slowly open my hands - being ready to hold them again if they start to panic. If they remain still, my hands open fully and they (eventually) calmly step off.
I started off with 4 who were very docile and easy to handle and 3 that were WILD! This had made a big difference in my little 'wild-children'. Over 2 weeks, they are all pretty easy to catch now and I often have to dump them out of my hand to get them back into the brooder.

Good luck and be patient.

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