I want to raise my chicks to be friendly and sweet with me. How can I do this?
I am an absolute sucker for sweet chickens. I just love their affection and how much they love getting mine! It's absolutely adorable! Who ever said chickens don't have personality, never had chickens or cared enough to get to know them.
It's important to really focus on that very important tid bit of information too. Chickens do have personality. But like any animal, they are individual personalities. What that means is you can't expect the same results from each chicken no more than you can from a person or a cat. And breed matters too, some breeds are going to be less likely to warm up to an owner than others. So be sure to research your breeds before settling on any one type.
With that said, let's get started.
So, how does one achieve owning family friendly sweet chickens, especially ones that want to be picked up and even pet?
Patience, trust, hands on interaction, consistency, and TREATS! haha Yes, I think we all can agree that treats warms up most any relationship. We love treats.
*Side note: Chicks under 3 weeks shouldn't be given treats unless medically necessary. This is important so they get their diet from their feed. If you do feed any treats, make sure to feed grit too. Otherwise, they can digest it and can end up with impacted or sour crop.
Most people will start building these types of relationships with younger chicks, before they are grown. However, you can build a relationship with older chickens too. But, like with any person, the older we get the most set in our ways we become. I find most success with chickens under 7 months of age. After 5 months it takes much more work and effort and may not achieve as much results as hoped.
So let's start with chicken psychology.
Chickens are at the bottom of the totem pole so to say. They know it, and start to show this as young as 1 week old. They will run and scatter if anyone tried to pick them up. They are more favorable to your attention prior to 1 week, but are still known to be leary then too.
This is their natural instinct for survival. They scatter and mom runs off the threats. Then they return to their mom and go about their scratching and playing around. So, when you reach in, don't reach in fast. And pick them up gently. I advise to pick up your chicks multiple times a day so they begin to learn this routine.
Starting the process of acquainting your chicks.
Once you pick them up be careful as they will jump out of you hands sometimes. They don't know better and love to explore. As you hold them, keep them warm cupped in your hands gently. They love to snuggle. Just be careful. They poop. If you feel them squirm on try to adjust positions that is typically a que to put them on a paper towel to potty. But, sometimes, they just poop. So, keep a towel and a way to clean your hands close. Hydrogen Peroxide works because unlike rubbing alcohol there's no fumes and it still disinfects. Just dry hands before picking up chick again.
I also let chicks explore my chest, shoulders, and neck. Yes, they may poop. So give potty breaks every so often once you get the hang of their pooping needs. I also put paper towel on my chest under my bra so they are sitting cupped in the towel not on my skin. That's a poop catcher. You can even get the baby spit cloths or any type of cloth to just wash and reuse.
Over time they will start to feel very comfortable with you. You can sprinkle their chick feed on a paper towel in front of you so they walk to you to eat it. You want to establish trust by letting them come to you. They naturally have a boundary line; if you cross it, they run. So, the goal here is to shorten it and they are the only ones who can choose the distance they trust.
Let's move into further Trust Building.
As the chicks grow you can start offering treats from your hands, even if it's just their own chick feed. Some treats they love to run off and around with when any other chicks are near as if to tease the others while playing,"it's mine.. look what I got.. it's mine." Then they act like it's a game of, "Tag! I got it!" As they steal from each other. It's absolutely entertaining.
Be patient. Don't move or push your hand toward them. It helps to rest the back of your hand on the floor. This offers them a sense of comfort as it's closer to their visual level. When they eat from your hand, don't move and don't try to touch them. Just let them eat and learn to trust the situation. Otherwise they will think it's a trap and this can set you back some time.
Once you've established a new boundary of trust.. where they are now being held, hanging out on your shoulder, eating from your hands, letting you pet them, etc.. you will notice if you move them from you and walk away they may start to follow you around. But, they tend to stop and go back to where they were if that area is their "safe area". Meaning, chickens don't travel far from safety, food, and water. So, unless you trained them to keep following you by offering treats and such, they tend to go back to their sanctuary and wait for your return.
Personally, I never train my chickens to follow me everywhere. This is for their safety and my sanity! haha. I don't want them to feel comfortable exploring. I like my garden in tact and my compost too. I once let some chickens feel safer farther and I spend a lot of time raking my compost back up over and over again. haha
Final thoughts, I would like to remind you that not all chickens will be as sweet as others. It's important to allow them their personal space and boundaries. So for me, I just love on the ones who love to be loved the most and I still enjoy the others too. I enjoy the personalities they have to offer too. They're all great!
I do want to warn that chickens who become very docile and sweet tend to have a harder time in a flock that has stronger personalities. They get bullied easily and don't stand up for themselves well making targets of themselves. So proceed with caution and be sure to raise your chickens to all be acceptant of your sweet birds. It helps to have smaller flocks to reduce that problem and also raise them all to be used to friendly and nurturing behavior.
Here is video of a naturally sweet chick who we never trained. She just chose to be lovable! This happens from time to time. While we do handle all our chicks frequently, we don't train them to be "pet quality" so to say. So it's always super special when this happens on its own.