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Topic of the Week - Raising People Friendly Poultry

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by sumi, Apr 16, 2017.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    Pic by @Mountain Peeps

    For many of us our birds are pets and for some they are used for showing purposes, both mean raising people friendly, tame birds are important, but what is the best way(s) to go about that? This week I'd like to hear you all's thoughts and practices when it comes to raising people friendly, tame birds. Some questions:

    - How best to raise chicks to keep them tame and comfortable around humans and what about broody raised chicks?
    - How do you tame an adult bird?
    - What about cockbirds? How do you establish the human vs cockbird "pecking order"?

    For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/topic-of-the-week-thread-archive
    1 person likes this.

  2. TheTwoRoos

    TheTwoRoos Crowing

    Sep 25, 2015
    I start young and hand feed mine,did the same with my broody. In fact,the broody hen got so use to being in the house,she became tame,but not too tame.Her chicks were some of the most friendliest chickens I have ever had,and they were raised by her mainly,but associated with me when they could,and she even started bring them around our dogs,don't know why she became so friendly,but once she abandon her chicks,she went back to her normal skittish ways,its almost like she knew I wanted to be a part of their lives,or she wanted some assistants.

    But beside that,I pick them up often,and feed them on my pants,and spread food around me,talk to them it can really help.

    I have not been able to make any adult bird the cuddle type,unless I hand raised them from babies.I have only gotten a few adult birds from people and they are just a bit more friendly then they were when I first got them,none of them will allow me to touch them,and on occasion,one might eat out my hand,or even talk to me.But I tried using many of the methods I use on young chickens.
    2 people like this.
  3. KDOGG331

    KDOGG331 Crossing the Road

    Jan 18, 2008
    Subscribing to this because I wanted mine to be pets and for eggs and they were pretty friendly when they were younger but I haven't spent nearly enough time with them and so now they're not really :( not scared, just not that pick up friendly and a little skittish sometimes. Anyway, I want to know how to make them friendly again.
  4. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    - How best to raise chicks to keep them tame and comfortable around humans and what about broody raised chicks?


    The best way to get people friendly chickens is to raise them in a brooder big enough for you to climb in and get down with them, literally. When you can get down at their level so chicks can see all of you, not just a set of scary disembodied hands diving down at them from above a traditional brooder, their predator reflex remains quieted and trust is accomplished right from the start.

    To make sure broody raised chicks are also tame and easily handled, I select my most people oriented broody for the job. As soon as she begins bringing the chicks outside, I pick up a baby and then scoop up the broody at the same time. I cuddle the two together and that established for the chick that it has nothing to fear and the activity is desirable. Even breeds known to be flighty are tamed in this manner.

    - How do you tame an adult bird?

    Using treats, I sit down with the new bird. I allow her to come to me in her own good time. This can take several days, but eventually she will take food from my hand. After a few more days, drawing the hand with the treat in closer and closer to my body, I begin to stroke her breast and throat. Soon she is allowing me to pick her up and handle her.

    - What about cockbirds? How do you establish the human vs cockbird "pecking order"?

    I handle the cockerel as a chick, not distinguishing between him and the pullets. However, as soon as the hormones kick in around five or six months, I stop handling the cockerel except when absolutely necessary, and I ignore them as completely as possible.

    This establishes a trust between me and the cockerel, and he then has the confidence to explore his developing role in the flock with no interference from me. On the other hand, he is expected to respect me and my role in the flock. Should a "difference of opinion" arise, I firmly put him in his place by immobilizing him until he submits. This discipline involves no violence or pain. He "gets it" pretty fast.
  5. Abronsyth

    Abronsyth Songster

    Mar 19, 2013
    Upstate NY
    - How best to raise chicks to keep them tame and comfortable around humans and what about broody raised chicks?
    - How do you tame an adult bird?

    All of our chicken flocks that we have raised have grown up to be exceptionally friendly birds. Our bantams would jump onto our arms and laps, the older hens were content to let us pick them up and love on them. Conditioning and habituating are the two biggest factors that have played into this. First, we establish ourselves as positive things in the birds' lives through, of course, food! There are especially tasty treats that the chicks get from a young age only from our hands. If we pick them up they get a treat as soon as we set them down. We never let an interaction end on anything besides a positive note. If a chick is distressed when we pick her up, then we do not set her down still stressed, instead we sit her down on our laps and gently love on her until she relaxes and starts acting content and comfortable, then when we set them back down in the brooder we just hold them on our hand on the ground and let them calmly walk off. Positive reinforcement does wonders! As for chicks raised by hens we've only done twice. The hen was not a very friendly bird, as we didn't get her until later in life and she came from a hen that was practically feral (not ours). This made it a bit of a challenge, but thankfully we already had a flock of very friendly hens. Our friendly hens taught the unfriendly birds to come running whenever we called them, and of course we rewarded this with food. We started calling them over, feeding, and then very swiftly picking up the unfriendly birds and holding them until they calmed down a bit, and then set them back down and made sure they'd get food. We also had a habit of keeping the higher ranking hens from picking on them when we were around, so not only did we become food givers, but protectors as well.

    The unfriendly hen who was our only girl to hatch out chicks was my girl. She calmed down with age but for the first five years of life was a wild child, haha. Her chicks, though, were exposed to people from hatch, even though we rarely handled them. They were never easy to handle, but I would not call them unfriendly, either. Just less comfortable with handling than those we conditioned to it from a young age.

    - What about cockbirds? How do you establish the human vs cockbird "pecking order"?

    Oh boy, did it take us all ages to figure this one out! We had one rooster when I was just a little one who was a monster- gorgeous and a great rooster- but a monster. My parents employed some very...extreme tactics that I absolutely disagree with...and of course their attempts only made him more aggressive. Then came the second rooster we ever had; my rooster. He was the light of my life, gods how I loved that bird. He was raised just like the hens; conditioned to handling and raised kindly. For the most part he was very friendly and easy to handle, I could carry him around and he'd make content little chicken noises (hilarious hearing come out of this huge 10 pound bird). He did go after us if our backs were turned and we were walking away, though. He didn't go after me often, but my mom and little sibling were always fair game to him. So we did a lot of research and observations and came to a conclusion. Now, I really, really do not like training other than positive reinforcement, but sometimes it is necessary when you have an animal instinctively driven to be a butthead. So what we started doing was just turning around when he attacked, and just grabbed a hold of the base of his tail to hold him back. For some reason this worked wonders and has proved successful with every rooster since. We also read to not allow the rooster to mount a hen when you're nearby, and it makes sense given that the roosters treat other roo's the same way (higher ranking roo doesn't let any lower ranking roo's mount a hen in his presence), so we did this as well and it seemed to work just fine. The roosters never became less friendly or more difficult to handle, just stopped going after us when our backs were turned.

    I would say that one of the most important things when trying to modify an animal's behavior is to be able to recognize and read body language as accurately as possible. Recognizing the difference between being calmed and learned helplessness/stress induced stillness is very important, if you're just stressing a bird out a lot and mistaking it as relaxed behavior then you're setting it up for failure. Learn what different noises make (chickens have at least 24 noises with very distinct meanings!), and react accordingly to what they're "telling" you. Oh, and stay consistent! That is so important! Do not stop rewarding good behavior, do not suddenly change how you discipline the rooster unless your tactic isn't working. If training is doing what you want it to do, then take a step back and think to yourself; "What am I doing? How does my bird react when I do it?" to figure out where your mistake is, and then modify how you handle things.

    Above all, I always treat the birds with respect. They are intelligent animals with highly developed social behaviors and they ought to be treated as such.
  6. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    I got a lone bantam hen about 4 years ago and at a time when I wasn't planning to keep any chickens. She was a lone survivor after a theft took all her flock mates (long story), so I adopted her. She was skittish as heck around people, not used to being around them or seeing them, apart from now and then when she got fed. I had to keep her in a smallish wire cage for awhile, putting her outside on the lawn daily for some grass and dust bathing, which allowed for us to get to know each other. In time I got to move her into a coop and got her some friends, which she was delighted with.

    In the evenings, when she was roosting, I sometimes slowly walked up to her and talked to her and then slowly and carefully reached out and stroked her chest and neck just a little bit. So she got used to being touched. I did this only at roost time though, when she was in semi-dark and less likely to freak out and/or fly off in a panic. After a few weeks of this, I went into the coop one late afternoon for something and she surprised me by walking up to me, talking away. It was one of those moments I really wished I understood chicken "language"! I stood still and talked with her a bit and she continued talking back and walked right up to me. I slowly lowered myself until I was nearly sitting and she jumped onto my leg! And then she jumped onto my shoulder! I could not believe it! She sat on my shoulder for a few minutes before jumping off again and going about her business.

    This incident was a once off, she never came up to me like that again and never liked being picked up or handled, but in a way she let me know then that she trusted me and we were o.k. She never did get completely tame, but she got used to people in time.

  7. Wild Birdman

    Wild Birdman In the Brooder

    Aug 13, 2016
    Chicago, IL

    I find that food is a major motivator. Find something of a treat for them. We just last month added 10 nine week old chicks to our flock. They were very interactive with the breeder. One we named Sugar. She's a Plymouth Barred Rock and a lap/shoulder bird. When I can grab one, I'll sit and hold it on my lap, and help groom those hard to get feathers on the back of their neck.
    6 people like this.

  8. Bantamz

    Bantamz Chirping

    Sep 5, 2014
    my house
    It is key to handle them when they are young. I act like a mother kindave to them when they are young, let them cuddle with me in a big warm blanket, share my food with them and handle them alot. (I wait to handle them until they are a few days old because they are very fragile and i want to make shure they arent sick)
  9. DancingWthDucks

    DancingWthDucks Songster

    Feb 21, 2016
    Cumbria, UK
    - How best to raise chicks to keep them tame and comfortable around humans and what about broody raised chicks?
    HANDLE THEM! If you gently handling young fowl, daily, from day 1, then they will grow up tame and used to human interaction. Don't reach in from above, and grab them! For little chicks, this is terrifying and your outstretched hands will look like a bird of prey grabbing them! Raising the brooder off the floor will help, as will socialising them by situating the brooder in a busy area, were they will be exposed to other pets, livestock, people and load noises- this will prevent skittishness later on. Even with chicks raised by broodes should be handled regually.

    - How do you tame an adult bird?
    The way to an animals heart is food! :lol:. Last November, I purchased a beautiful Welsh Harlequin duck at the UK National Poultry Show, at the sale pens. She was super scared and un-handled, and when I reached in to get her out of the cage, she cowered at the back and hissed at me. After introducing Nemmy to my super tame flock of Welshies, and about 3kg of mealworms later, she's one of the tamest members of my flock (even friendlier than some of my hand reared birds!).
    Here's a pic of Nemmy having cuddle:

    - What about cockbirds? How do you establish the human vs cockbird "pecking order"?
    Out of my first (chicken) hatch, I decided to keep the only two survivors (both Partridge Wyandotte Bantams), which later turned out to be a cockerel and a pullet. Despite all the advice not to handle or tame male birds, I handled 'Pip' everyday, and him and his sister would ride around on my shoulders and come when called. He is currently 1 1/4 years old, and is such a lovely, well-behaved boy, who has NEVER showed me ANY signs of aggresion.
    2 people like this.
  10. Teila

    Teila Bambrook Bantams Premium Member

    Another great topic of the week and some good tips so far.

    Out of 5 hens, I have 2 who do not mind being picked up but none that are actually cuddly. BUT, I believe they trust me and are happy to follow me around the garden or sit on the deck and natter away to me.

    3 of my girls were purchased when they were approximately 3 months old and the other 2 were hatched here under a broody hen. Of the two hatched here, under the same hen but at different times, one is OK with being picked up, the other one is more ‘I love you but do not touch me’. So, they were raised by the same mum, handled and ‘raised’ by me in pretty much the same way but developed completely different chickenalities and sometimes I think it just boils down to their individuality and what they would like.

    However, what I did want to add, if raising chicks under a broody hen, pick the right hen!

    My best broody is Cilla a Pekin [bantam Cochin]. While still being protective and nurturing to her chicks and a great mum, she is very calm and lets me near her nest, pick up her chicks etc. However, one of her ‘daughters’ Blondie who is also quite trusting and OK with being picked up etc [also a Pekin] was a totally neurotic mum who freaked out and carried on even when I was just feeding them or changing water etc and she raised some pretty flighty, untrusting babies.

    So, while you ideally want a protective and nurturing mumma hen, you do not want one who raises the alarm at every single opportunity and raises neurotic chicks. Sadly for Blondie, no more babies for her.
    1 person likes this.

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