How to raise friendly chickens.

For some, chickens are livestock. For others, they're pets. For many, they're somewhere in between. For all of us, it's helpful if our flocks are friendly.

6 tips for how to raise friendly chickens – pin for later.

Why is this important? It's a matter of trust.

Naturally speaking, chickens have difficulty with trust – they approach most things with a healthy amount of fear. If you've ever introduced even a new, unknown treat you'll know how tentatively they approach it.

Fear is a necessary position for chickens to take. They are, after all, top of every predator's menu. The "fight or flight" reaction can be critical to their survival.

But practically speaking, it's important to be able to pick our chickens up to do a full health check, or to administer first aid. 

It's important, too, to have confidence that our flock will behave nicely with our children and grandchildren.

And being able to sit with our flock of friendly chickens is not only one of life's pleasures – it can be a great stress reliever.

The trick is getting the balance right. We need to make sure our chickens know they can trust us, whilst maintaining enough suspicion of the world around them to ensure they stay safe from predators.

The purpose of this article is to help everyone, from beginner to the more experienced keeper, know how to raise chickens who are friendly as well as happy and healthy.

Quick links.

This is a long and detailed article. My advice is to read through it all, but if you need to get to a particular section quickly, here are some links to jump you there.

Tip #1: Choose friendly chicken breeds.

Although most chicken breeds can be taught to make friends, some are more adaptable than others. Generally speaking, breeds which are excellent foragers tend to be quite independent and less willing to become reliant on human company.

The Livorno (Leghorn) is a good example of this. They're a good addition to a flock: ultra-reliable egg layers, forage for their own food, keep themselves to themselves and never cause problems within the flock. But they're not curious, not into sitting still, and for the most part don't really enjoy human company.

You'll find a mixture of views about which are the friendliest of breeds. These are my top four, based on my own experience.

1. Silkie: the ultimate fluffy puff-ball chicken, the Silkie is a particularly good choice for young children. Follow the link for more details and places to find Silkie chickens.

2. Buff Orpington: there's a reason why this was Elizabeth, the Queen Mother's favourite breed, and is now one of King Charles' flock. Good egg layers, excellent mothers and a gentle, easygoing personality, they're another good choice for older children – a little on the large size for youngsters to hold. 

A Buff Orpington hen in a field of grass.

3. Speckled Sussex: chatty, friendly and spectacular in their feathering, the Speckled Sussex is always part of my flock. If you like a curious chicken who will follow you round all day long, this is the choice for you.

See my Speckled Sussex article for a more detailed view.

4. Red Stars: also known as Golden Comet, Isa Brown and red sex-linked, these are the common brown chicken who are one of the most reliable egg-layers you'll find. They're easy to care for, with funny, curious personalities and one of the most intelligent breeds if you want to train them to come to your call, for example.

My only hesitation in recommending them is that they can become bullies with new additions to the flock. But with people, there's not another like them.

See my article on the Red Star for a more detailed view.

Always remember basic hygiene whenever handling or sitting with baby chicks or chickens.

  • Don't touch your face, or put fingers near the eyes or mouth, when handling.
  • Wash hands in warm water, using a good quality soap for at least 20 seconds, before rinsing off.
  • Make sure children follow the same routine.

How to raise friendly chickens, tip #2: start early. 

Dolphins and elephants are known to have the best memories of all species – but those of us who have chickens know that theirs isn't bad either!

For chicks raised by a mother hen, their first attachment will, of course, be to her. But where chicks are raised by humans, we become their mother hen. And their first attachment is to us – if we give them enough attention.

So if you want friendly adult chickens, begin their "friendliness training" when they're tiny chicks – as soon as they hatch if you're incubating your own eggs, or when they're delivered if you're ordering from a hatchery or breeder.

  • Baby chicks need their sleep, so don't overwhelm them. Spend several short visits every day rather than long periods once or twice a week. A few minutes each time is plenty.
  • Remember that chicks need heat, so don't keep them away from their brooder lamp for too long. If they start peeping loudly, that's your clue to return them to the brooder.
  • Start by leaving your hand in the brooder box so they're used to its presence, and talk in a low, gentle voice. Use slow, quiet movements so as not to alarm them.
  • Graduate to soft strokes if they'll allow it, and later to picking up one chick at a time. Bear in mind that at this stage they have soft bones, so be gentle.
  • Always supervise children handling baby chicks. Teach them to cup the chick gently between two hands, keeping the wings by their side. This way, the chick feels safe and the child won't squeeze too hard or drop the baby. 
A child in a pink cardigan cups a baby chick between two hands.Teach children to cup baby chicks gently.
  • Chicks like treats as much as adult chickens, so feel free to feed them appropriate treats, but in moderation. That way, they will associate you with goodies and welcome you as a friend every time!

Tip #3: raising friendly adult chickens.

It may take longer for adults to become friendly – and some never will. But time and attention is as much the key to building trust and friendship with your adult flock as it is with babies.

As well as giving us companionship, it allows us to check their general health and to spot changes quickly. It's also fun to learn their individual personalities: what they like, what they don't, and what behaviour may be out of character and therefore a warning signal that something's not quite right.

  • Spending longer periods with adult chickens is fine as long as you allow them to call the shots. Never try to force a chicken to sit on your lap or be held if they don't want to. Build trust by letting them choose whether to stay near you or wander off foraging. 
  • Sitting on the ground with both baby and adult chickens is by far the best way to communicate with them. It's less threatening for them, and you'll get a chicken's eye view of life! It's also a good position from which to take some great photos.
  • Taking treats into the run always goes down well, and helps your flock see you as their friendly provider. Start by tossing some grain or mealworms on the ground and work up to offering special treats from your hand. 
Me, sitting in my chicken run with my chickens around looking for treats.My chickens are particularly partial to a few mealworm treats!
  • Avoid sudden movements. Spend time just sitting – I have a small table and chair in my run and enjoy spending early mornings with a coffee as the hens go about their daily business. I can also guarantee it as a great stress reliever.
  • Be patient. Not every chicken wants to be your friend. You'll learn who does, and who prefers to keep their distance. Trying to force the issue is likely to result in the less friendly blasting out warning signals, which will frighten the rest of the flock.

Tip #4: talk to your chickens!

They may not understand every word you say (although sometimes I'm convinced mine do!) but chickens certainly become used to recognising individual human voices.

So getting your flock used to yours from an early age will go a long way to encouraging that friendly relationship.

  • Always "announce" your arrival by talking to your chickens (or to yourself!) as you approach the brooder or the run. Appearing quietly and without warning is likely to startle them, whereas hearing the voice of the provider of treats will make them run in your general direction every time!
  • If you have your brooder in the house, talk as you move around doing your daily tasks. Chicks have a good memory – they'll remember you're a friend who's around all the time, rather than a threat.
  • The same applies to working in the coop or run, and when you're hand feeding your flock. Keep talking, even if your neighbours think you're losing your mind. Your chickens will love it – some, like my Red Star Claudia, will even try to join in!
Two brown hens eating from hands, one brown hen photo-bombing the picture.There's always one!

Raising friendly chickens, tip #5: handle them with care.

I was taught to hold chickens properly at a chicken-keeping course held at King Charles' country home, Highgrove House, and run by the UK's Poultry Club.

  • The wings should always be kept tucked into the side, making the chicken feel more secure and less likely to panic and flap.
  • The hand should have fingers spread between and to each side of the legs, so that the chickens' legs dangle and are not cramped.
  • The breast bone (or keel bone) should rest along the length of your arm, so the chicken's weight is balanced and carried by you. In that way the chicken's internal organs are supported, not crushed.
Me, holding one of my Speckled Sussex hens.One of my Speckled Sussexes, secure in letting her keel bone rest on my arm.

I've always carried my chickens in this way. It keeps them calm and safe and I'm safe in the knowledge that I'm not harming them.

Never hold a chicken upside down by its legs. It's not necessary, it's painful for them and it can damage their organs.

Children holding adult chickens.

Older children can be taught to hold chickens properly. Large breeds like the Speckled Sussex can be too heavy for them, depending on age, but starting with a breed like the Silkie, or a bantam chicken, is a good way to teach them the best way of handling their flock.

Very young children will find this more difficult, and can lack the control to be able to hold chickens without grabbing quite roughly or making sudden movements which will startle the bird.

A good way to start is to have the child sitting on the ground with the chicken in their lap, stroking the chicken gently. Again, a few minutes at a time regularly is better than longer but infrequent sessions.

Always supervise younger children holding chickens. Not every chicken wants to be held, and a flapping hen can startle a child and cause panic.

Tip #6: for friendly chickens: grow some plants!

We've already mentioned time and treats as ways of encouraging friendly chickens. But it's important not to overwhelm your flock, either by spending too much time devoted only to them, or by overloading them with treats. Both should be given in moderation.

A great way of finding that moderation without even trying is to spend time adding plants to your coop and run.

Whether you have a large run where you can add a whole array of different flowers and herbs, or a tiny coop where you can add a couple of flower pots to stand outside, it's always a great source of satisfaction, as well as an inexpensive way of providing healthy treats. 

Plants are an excellent source of nutrition for your chickens, whether they're sunflowers, roses, herbs – or even weeds.

Take a look at this short video for inspiration!

If you found this article helpful, you may also like these.

Thumbnail link: how to raise happy chickens in 5 easy steps.
A beginner's guide to raising chickens - link.
Chick brooders: what they are and how to make them. Link to article.
Healthy treats for chickens - link.
All about mealworms - link.
Garlic benefits for chickens - link.
Free range chicken gardens book review. Click for article.
The pecking order: link to article.
Dealing with aggressive roosters - link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.