How to Deal with Skittish Chickens: A Practical Guide

Chickens are naturally apprehensive towards humans, but is there a way to deal with their skittish nature? Much like other animals, win over chickens with proper training and rewards. 

To deal with skittish chickens, you have to make the bird feel safe around you. You can train chickens to be this way. It takes patience and some tasty treats, but with time your chickens will be comfortable with human contact. 

Chickens are more complicated than they give off. They are much like humans in a lot of ways; they respond well to structure and positive reinforcement. Understanding a little bit about how a chicken sees the world can help when trying to train them. 

Is your chicken coop insulated? Are you risking death or serious injury to your chickens if the coop is not insulated? See my post here to know for sure.

Do You Need Any Special Training Techniques for Chickens?

Chickens respond well to similar training methods of other animals. There might be some slight modifications to cater to these feathered friends, though. Chickens like a lot of the comforts we do.  Making sure they feel safe and cared for is important to their mental health. 

Your chickens might be skittish because they are bored, see my post on chicken toys on how you can keep your chickens entertained.

Techniques To Calm Chickens Down

  • Get them used to humans; It may not seem obvious to you, but the source of your chicken’s fear is human contact. Get them acclimated to human exposure by offering them a safe environment to be introduced to people. Try getting the chicken in something like a large dog kennel. Then place the kennel in a high trafficked area in your home. Over time, if the chicken feels safe, it will grow accustomed to being around human activity.
  • Be more involved in feeding; Becoming more involved in their feeding will help build a trust bond with the chickens. Make sure that the chickens associate you with feeding time. Have the chicken eat something you are holding while you have some sort of physical contact with it. This is a tried and true method used for other animals as well. Be sure to match your chicken’s comfort level and never push too far; it might have adverse training effects. 
  • Grab and Hold; This technique is for the committed. It takes a lot of time and patience to pull off. The idea is that you quickly pick the chicken up and hold onto it. It seems easy, but the trick is understanding your chicken’s body language. 

Try feeling for when the bird has finally relaxed in your grip. Once it has let down its guard, and you can sense it, let it go. Then you repeat this process over and over until there is no hesitation to relax when you grab the chicken. It takes a lot of time to pull this off, but it’s a sure-fire way to build trust. 

Do your chickens often poop in their own drinking water? It’s a problem for many chicken owners see my post on how to stop it from happening!

  • Starting Early; If you can start acclimating your chickens early, then you have a better chance of getting them to like you quicker. Making sure that your chicks are well adjusted to human contact is important to building a strong trust relationship. 

When they are young, try and get them to eat treats out of your hand. These can be oats, mealy worms, or anything the chicks may enjoy. You don’t have to win them all; once you get the boldest to come up soon enough, the rest will follow.

These techniques are based on chicken psychology. It may seem silly to imagine your yard birds as emotionally complex, but they are not like humans in the way they establish social order. Your chickens have set up their hierarchy within the coop. To better train your skittish chickens, you should explore some simple chicken psychology.

Are your chickens skinny See my post here to tell if your chickens and skinny and how to make them pack on the pounds.

What Do You Need to Know About Chicken Psychology?

You should have a firm grasp of their flock dynamics.  Also, their natural submissiveness, check the video above to see how intelligent chickens are.

Chickens are surprisingly emotionally intelligent. Some people even refer to them as avian Einstein’s. Given their role on the farm, they may get pegged as simple animals, that they are not. 

Studies have shown that chickens can:

  • Count; Chickens have a sense of numerosity. They can even perform some very simple math. 
  • Have self-control; Some chickens have been known to wait if there is the chance they could get better food. This, along with other characteristics, have some under the belief that chickens have the capacity for self-awareness. 
  • Have complex emotions; like us, chickens catalog their interactions as either good or bad. They also have episodic memory, meaning they capture their experiences and use them to interpret the world around them.
  • Have unique personalities; If you own some birds, you already know. Each chicken develops its personality. They are each cognitively complex individuals.

Knowing this can help when you are trying to get a chicken to trust you. They need more than just punishment to keep them in line. They need you to become a part of their flock.

Chickens group dynamics naturally make them fight, to understand why your chickens are fighting and what to do about it see my post.

Flock dynamics are essential to keeping control of your coop. Chickens are flock animals, and by nature are looking for order in their lives. If you plan on being part of your chicken’s lives, that means you need to be comfortable with the role of head of the flock. 

You get this role by being the problem solver and the food bearer. The trust your birds have with you depends on them understanding that if there is ever an issue, you’ve got it taken care of. When the animal feels safe with you, it can let it’s guard down. It becomes calm and happy. 

Distrust will lead to constant vigilance. This will create unhappy, often aggressive, chickens.

Another tip to understanding your chickens is to communicate with your birds on their terms. Chickens don’t speak English. Yes, it seems obvious, but when it comes to communicating with your chickens, trying to apologize or give praise won’t due if you’re using English. 

Tips for good chicken communication:

  • Speak their language; Often, chickens communicate positively with each other with low-coos. Emulate this by drawing out vowels when giving praise: “Who’s a Goooooood boy.”
  • Physical contact;  A great way to show your chicken some love is to give it some scratches. Each bird will have its favorite spots, so try and learn what they like. 

These are just a few ways to convey to your bird that you mean them no harm. Chickens can be complex creatures; understanding a little bit about their psychology goes a long way. 

How Do You Calm Down A Chicken?

If your bird is inconsolable, there are a few techniques that may help. These methods use the bird’s anatomy to force a state of calmness in the chicken. 

They are the:

  • Oscillating Finger Method
  • Sternum Stroke Method

Both of these techniques use repetitive motion to focus on a certain part of the bird’s body. It puts the chicken into a state of tonic immobility. When this happens, the birds are semi-paralyzed, like an opossum when they play dead. Find more information on these techniques here.

Use these as a last resort, or when your chicken needs to be taken out of a situation quickly. 

Developing a relationship with your birds is always better than using hypnosis techniques. If your chickens trust you, there should have no issues with you picking them up. 

Having an understanding of simple chicken psychology and a few techniques can make sure your birds are comfortable and happy. Making sure your chickens feel safe is the first step to tackling their skittish nature. Remember to be patient, and soon your feathered friends will be flocking to you, not running away.

Sources – How to Deal With Skittish Chickens – Chicken Psychology – How to Hypnotize Chickens

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

Recent Posts