Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to be a Chicken Whisperer


Recently an Instagram follower of mine @gellawella asked me how I get my chickens to be "so secure and familiar and wanting to hang around you?"

I was so tickled to get this question, because I had no idea my chickens appeared secure.

But it seemed like a good topic to write about, because I actually think about this a lot and act intentionally to increase trust with all of my critters.  To earn a chicken's trust is really very easy and can be summed up in just two words:

Be Kind

I could end the post right there, but as you know I am way too verbose for that.  And besides, that's not very informative if you're not sure how to be kind to a chicken.

{Bubble baths?  Pedicures?}

Think Kind Thoughts

The first step in being kind is to have kind thoughts towards them before you even head outside.  If you're going out to do something difficult, some unpleasant herd-management task, and you're all tense and nervous and worried about having a bad hair day, they will react badly, too. 

If you're angry or frustrated about something entirely unrelated to your chickens or critters, and carry that energy into the barnyard, they will read you a mile away, and that's how far away they'll stay from you.

If you expect bad behavior from your animals, they will give you those results.

If you don't even like chickens {is that possible?} but are raising them anyway, they will sense that {as will all creatures and people you don't like} and stay away from you {and so will I}.

Speak Softly and Nicely

The next step is to talk nicely to them.  For me that is a soft, sing-song voice.  "Hey girls, how are my girls?  How are my sweetie-little-chickie-babies?"  When they hear me talking calmly, they tend to stay calm themselves.

{Sounds a bit saccharine, I know.  But nobody is listening, so just indulge your inner girlie-girl.  It will help keep your mind on thinking kind thoughts, too. And it will give you practice on complimenting someone else, if that is difficult for you.}

Move Slowly and Deliberately

When I am out in the coop or in the barnyard and they are milling around me, I try to move slowly (still talking softly to them of course) and let them know what I am doing as I'm moving around them.  If I have to approach a chicken, I try to veer slightly off to the side of them vs. directly at them.  Most critters will feel threatened if you walk straight at them.  By veering slightly, I can see my chicken relax and realize they don't have to move out of my way or deal with me as a threat.

If they are moving through a gate with me, I move very slowly and let them go at their own pace.  They in turn teach me to appreciate the moment and not rush through my tasks.  If I move too quickly or suddenly, they scatter and scare, reminding me to slow down. 

Bring Treats

Before I started spending half of every week at the Big Farm this summer, I was bringing my girls shredded carrots once/day in the afternoons.  They (and I) loved this ritual and they always ran up to me, even from across the yard, when I stepped out of the house.

When I was gone this summer, Papa Bear was at work in the afternoons and the girls didn't receive treats so regularly.  I noticed after awhile that when I came home on the weekends, they no longer ran up to me anymore.  When the summer ended and the regular treats resumed, they again learned to anticipate my arrival every afternoon.  In fact, if I am late in doing this, I will find them on my front or back porches at the door, waiting for me.

Start Early

Set these patterns from an early age and be consistent.  I was able to start with my chickens as babies, just a day old. That way I could hug them and squeeze them and pet them and love them and call them George. 

{Without the squeezing}

I visited them several times a day in their brooder, always talking softly to them, and I tried to pick up several of them every day, to show them when I touch them I am not going to hurt them.

Naturally, some of them are friendlier than others, despite my interacting with all of them similarly.  But the longer I have them, the friendlier they have gotten, and in my flock, I can touch almost all of them even when they are not in the coop. 

These tips work on alpacas, too.  My neighbor remarked when I first got my boys, how disappointed her kids were that they could not approach them close enough to feed or touch them.  Now when they visit, they know they will be able to walk up to them and give them apples and pellets and the boys won't run away.

Just like people, animals need to know you are safe and not scary.  The more things you can do to show them that, consistently, the faster they will learn to trust, and approach, you.

What are your best tips for helping your critters trust you?  I'd love to hear!

Cluck cluck -
Gypsy Farmgirl, chicken whisperer


Gabriella Larsson said...

Aaw you're so sweet!! Thanks for explaining how you've done. :) Specially on how you move in the coot, and elsewhere. I've only had cats and dogs, but I have the same experience as you,move deliberately. And I'm so fascinated how they instantly respond when you shift in mood.
Oh, not to talk about the treats.... Wonder how we humans would respond to treats... we're mammals, right? We ought to respond well! Right?? ;)
Thanks again for explaining to me. That is so thoughtful of you. :*
Now i will continue to read the rest. ;)

Gabriella Larsson said...

Sorry. Coop!

Victoria Strauser said...

I knew what you meant :) Thank you for visiting!!!

Haley said...

I agree with your animal whispering methods. Even though we got our chickens when they were 4 or so months old, they come running when they see me. I often give them treats and always talk to them and tell them what I'm doing. They don't want to be touched but I hope it will eventually happen with patience and kindness. :-)

Victoria Strauser said...

Thank you Haley - I bet they will. :)

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