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How To Make Baby Chicks Like You

Courtesy of Laurel

The path to making your baby chicks like you is through their stomach.

There are a whole host of reasons why your adorable little fuzzballs are scared of you. And as disappointing as it is for you to have them to chirp in heart-breaking alarm every time you hold them, or even reach for them, you should know that this is not unusual behavior.

Point of fact, it should be viewed as a positive indicator of good health and potential longevity.

This is not to say that your birds should be terrified of you forever. That’s no good for you or your flock.

But a thorough understanding of all the dynamics can help you understand why your baby chicks are behaving the way they are and enable you with the knowledge/instincts to care for them… for the rest of their happy lives.

The Land Of Giants

The average baby chick stands around 2 inches tall when first hatched.

The average American adult is well over 60 inches tall.

The difference is a factor of 30.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a baby chick, try to imagine a 150 foot tall living thing reaching down to pick you up and wanting to ‘snuggle’.

Any rational being, with any instinct to survive, is going to completely freak out!

There is a phenomenal size difference between you and your baby chick. The fact that they are chirping in alarm is a pretty good indicator that they don’t have any wires crossed.

Being Held

In the wild, the only time a bird will find itself ‘being held’ is when something is trying to eat them. It doesn’t matter if it is by a hawk, fox, raccoon or whatever. The drive to escape is innate!

Domestication has reduced this significantly in chickens, but it has not completely removed it. Their natural instinct is to NOT have their movements restricted. Survival generally depends on it.

Also worth noting is that the impulse to ‘hold’ something, is behavior generally exhibited by creatures with hands. Chickens do not have hands, and as such, this impulse is completely foreign to them.

Instead, you will see baby chicks huddle around close to mama hen, and when the opportunity is present, they will huddle under her.

I can tell you from personal experience that as certain members of your flock become more bonded with you, they will instinctively stay close to you – to the point where they are literally underfoot.

A good indicator that you have connected with a bird is when they simply ‘hang out’ with you; regardless whether you have treats or not. In this situation, you have replaced the fear, caused by the significant size difference, with something positive.

How To Overcome

There are countless stories of wild animals being tamed and almost every time it involves food. It’s the same thing for baby chicks.

The best way to overcome the obstacles caused by instinct is through their stomach.

Giving treats to your baby chicks is a sure way to make friends. However, caution is advised in this as domestication has put significant dietary requirements on their rapidly growing bodies. You do NOT want them filling up on treats and passing on the necessary protein they need for proper growth.

But as long as the treats are healthy and done in moderation, they are great tool for building a bond.

Our personal preference for treats is grasshoppers and crickets. Not only does this give them the taste of something good, but engages with another instinct – the desire to hunt bugs.

Nothing breaks the boredom of a brooder like a little hopping insect!

Training With Treats

As one would imagine, when it comes to training your baby chicks it is important to do things patiently, consistently and in small steps.

The following is a process that has worked for us:

  • Step one – After securing the treat, it is absolutely vital that you decide on a ‘call’ that will allow the chicks to associate you with the treat. For us, we make a clucking sound (placing our tongues to the top of our mouths and dropping it for an audible pop). You would be surprised just how far away a flock of chickens can hear this sound.
  • Step two – Delivering it by hand. Remember, you are working to overcome the natural fear caused by the tremendous size difference. Simply tossing snacks from a distance may train them to associate the treat call with food, but it will do little to help you bond with them.

FYI, this step requires patience.

Start with your at hand the top of the brooder and gradually work you way down. You may or may not actually get them to snatch it out of your hand before they graduate from the brooder. But, regardless, this is a good foundation of behavior that you can build on.

## Note ##

Do not be frustrated if your baby chicks don’t notice or even show an immediate interest in the buggy treat. Normally, they would have mama hen to show them the significance. Just be patient and try again in a few hours.

At some point, one of them is guaranteed to notice and catch the hopping treat. You will know when they do because they will make the ‘excited chirp’ and run around like crazy – usually with the others chasing them, anxious to steal whatever this new treat is.

Once this happens, the others will learn quickly as chickens learn by observation.

Undoing Natural Instinct

It must be stated that the instincts that are causing your baby chicks to be nervous around you absolutely do have value.

When you train your flock to eat from your hands, you are undoing the natural instincts that were meant to keep them alive.

Granted, it is well worth your time to train them to come to the treat sound. There will come a time (or two) where a bird gets out. And I can tell you, that having them come to you is much MUCH easier than having to chase them down.

But it really needs to be understood what you are doing and the implications of loosing a natural fear.

The vast majority of our flocks have been free range and it has been our experience that the birds that live the longest are the ones who are most skittish. The ‘friendly’ ones, are the ones caught out in the open and unfortunately don’t fight back.

Socializing With Strangers

Believe it or not, it is possible to socialize your flock too much. One of our first flocks became so accustomed to being fed treats from the ‘no-feather giants’ that they would approach anyone that came to the house.

This included the poor driver for every single delivery.

I must admit, the responses from our delivery drivers were generally fairly entertaining. However, it became clear that we had removed too much of the instincts that were meant to keep them alive.

By way of comparison, a later flock was socialized to ‘just us’.

This was good as the birds still retained a safe fear of strangers, while still running across the road every afternoon to greet our son as he got off the bus.

Petting Vs. Holding

Something you can consider as an alternative to holding your feathered friends is petting.

Chickens can and do appreciate their chests gently stroked by someone they are bonded with. Somehow, this seems to fulfill a sense of physical contact, I would imagine much like roosting close together at night.

We recommend petting over actual holding for two different reasons.

  • First – Petting does not negate the instinct to fight being held, which is something you really want your bird to do in the case of a predator attack.
  • Second – Salmonella. On a hot day, you will often see your birds taking a dirt bath. This is a healthy and necessary practice for them. Unfortunately, this could be the very same place they defecated the day before.

If you were to analyze the dust that is covering your bird, chances are you would find fecal material. And when you hold them, you are getting this material all over yourself – not just your hands, but all over your clothes as well.

In the case of petting, this is easily rectified by washing your hands with a good anti-bacterial soap. But when you hold them, it’s not so easy to be certain that you are completely clean and safe.

Conclusion

There is definitely something unique and perhaps even primal with regards to our urge to have baby chicks like us. Personally, I see it as something good. It shows compassion and empathy on our part when we care.

But, there is also a need to be responsible. Much like limiting the amount of candy a child can have, caution is necessary when deciding how you want your birds to interact with you. Removing the innate fears they are born with comes with risk.

Ultimately, they are your birds. Care for them in the way your instincts lead.

If you do this, keeping their best interests at heart, then you are sure to have a healthy, happy flock.

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