I just came back from my local feed store and I have to say, that place was busy! There are soo many people now that have taken the dive and have brought animals, (ones that were typically reserved for a large farm), into their own backyard. And it’s easy to understand why. A small flock of 5 chickens can provide you with a lot, while requiring very little for their service.
But…while homestead styled animals may be making a come back, there is a mindset that has been lost in their absence. For a lot of people, the only real experience they have with animals is with either a dog or a cat. And those kinds of pets are completely different than livestock animals.
For the record, with an extensive amount of effort, certain breeds of chicken can display appreciation at human physical contact; this includes being held.
With this fact established, the next question you should ask yourself is, ‘should I really want them to?’
Domesticated chickens have come a long way from the original jungle fowl. Careful breeding has produced a very wide range of traits that can be tailored for almost every preference. Yet, even with all these ‘options’, they are still a livestock animal and as such, should be treated in a way that best suits them.
Unlike a puppy that showers you with love at first sight, baby chicks will FREAK OUT when you reach for them. They will not come to you when you call, nor will they dance happily at your approach. They are simply not that kind of animal.
Do Chickens Like To Be Pet?
While a baby chick will try fervently to avoid you, this is something that will pass, provided you have patience.
For our flocks, we will start giving them treats, such as a cricket or a small grasshopper, at around two weeks of age. This has proven to be very useful as it provides a positive experience with our ‘towering’ presence.
Every time we toss them a ‘treat’, we make a special treat sound. I can tell you, it doesn’t take long for them to associate that sound with a yummy bug. Consequently, when we approach the brooder, the chicks will at first run away, only to immediately run back to us as we make the treat sound. This is the first step in acclimating your feathered livestock friend to you.
As time goes on, your flock will become more and more comfortable with you. Personalities will develop between birds and while some will still be reluctant to be close to you, others will not. And for those who no longer display hesitation, there is a very real chance that you can engage with them.
While we do not actively try and tame our flocks (as they are free-range and survive better when they are skittish), we do get the occasional hen that enjoys a gentle pet. This is not something we pursue, but we do indulge it when the bird decides on its own terms that it enjoys having its chest or back stroked.
For the record, we enjoy it too! But we do not actively try to make this happen. Chickens have their own innate instincts – instincts that dictate their behavior. And we try to respect this behavior as much as possible, thus allowing them the freedom to be what they really are…Happy Chickens!
Do Chickens Show Affection To Humans?
We’ve all seen it. That happy tail wagging dog or the cat that rubs up against you, desperate for some attention. These are clear and obvious signs of affection.
Unfortunately, chickens do neither of these things. But while they do not display the obvious, that does not mean they don’t appreciate you.
Chickens will display a relaxed and content disposition around people who make them comfortable. This is a far cry from what you might expect from a dog or cat, but it can still be fun.
It always makes me smile when certain friendly members of the flock decide to follow one of us around. And it doesn’t seem to matter if we’re working in the garden or just working on some odd job. They enjoy our company and will supervise whatever it is we are working on.
Think of it like bumping into a friend and then deciding to hangout for a couple of hours. It’s not an intense or in-depth appreciation, but it is genuine nonetheless.
### Important Note ###
It’s worth noting that there are those occasional birds that will take it step farther – meaning they could jump up on your lap and snuggle down. However, this unusual behavior is usually the result of extensive ‘hands-on’ time. For your average backyard chicken, this will never happen.
Can You Get Sick From Handling Chickens?
While it can be uber adorable to see a child holding a chicken, you should know that this can put people at risk.
Salmonella is a very real thing for chickens and that is NOT a pleasant thing to endure. Point of fact, for the very young or very old, Salmonella can be fatal. The CDC has some good material regarding the subject.
As Salmonella is spread via the chicken’s waste, it can be easy to think that you are protected by simply washing your hands. And while washing your hands is definitely recommended after handling a chicken, it is not guaranteed to keep you safe from Salmonella.
Chicken feces turns powdery when it dries. And because of this, it can coat everything on the bird. This means that not only are your hands and arms exposed to these germs, but anything that comes in contact with the chicken’s body – including your clothes.
All that’s needed at this point, is to have that germ ridden dust find its way to your mouth, and you are well on your way towards having a very miserable experience.
It’s also worth stating that you don’t have to touch the chicken directly in order to become infected. As mentioned, chicken feces will turn powdery and is easily made airborne by the flapping of a chicken’s wings. As that dust will travel where ever the wind blows, you could inadvertently come in contact with Salmonella, simply by bad luck.
### Important Note ###
Salmonella usually infects humans via the mouth. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to touch a chicken, provided you don’t wipe your mouth before washing your hands. I tell you this not to encourage handling chickens, but rather to save you from any unwarranted fear.
That being said, NEVER EVER KISS A CHICKEN. That’s just all sorts of wrong!