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How do Chickens Show Affection?

Chickens and the variety of personalities and emotions that they can have are vastly misunderstood. While they may not be like a parrot or other social talking birds, chickens have a way of showing their affection to their owners in different but similar ways. They are chickens after all and not shoulder birds, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ways of displaying attraction or happiness towards their humans. Keep reading to find out what behaviors and other displays of affection chickens show their favorite people.

As a general rule, chickens show affection to the people they like by following them around, rubbing their beaks on them, squatting for pets, and sitting in their lap.

Avid chicken farmers and backyard raisers of flocks will all tell you that the personalities of the chickens are what make them the most interesting creatures. Many people adopt dogs and cats for their funny behaviors, companionship, and affection. What so many don’t know is that chickens can be just as entertaining! Once you’ve taken the time and learned how to gain respect and love from your hens, and maybe a rooster, you will truly feel the special bond for them as a species.

Hey chicken buddies: Quick heads-up before going further! I've put together a list of stuff I use and love for my flock. If you're curious about what keeps my hens happy, click here to find out.

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Do hens show affection to people?

A chicken can definitely grow attached to a person and show them obvious signs of endearment. Oftentimes, the chickens think you’re great just because you’re feeding them and giving them treats and entertainment. But then again, they can also take an interest in you simply just because they want to.

There was a study performed to determine the emotional capacities and wide range of cognition among domestic chickens. They found that they not only love us, but do indeed have the ability to show emotion and empathy towards us as well. Not only did they determine that chickens were emotionally complex individuals, but they are also capable of communicating in several ways, even showing self-awareness, as well as interpreting and displaying complex positive and negative emotional cues.

Chickens have complex negative and positive emotions, as well as a shared psychology with humans and other ethologically complex animals. They exhibit emotional contagion and some evidence for empathy.

Lori Marino

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How do chickens show affection to a person?

A hen will show affection in the form of following you around or sitting in your lap, but hens have several other ways of letting you know that you’re their friend. Here is a list of examples of behaviors that you may notice your hens doing when you’re nearby.

  • Staring: Sometimes they just watch everything you do like you are the most entertaining thing they’ve ever witnessed.
  • Following: This also goes along with staring. They get under your feet frequently because they’re busy making sure that they don’t let you out of their sight. They’ve grown close to you so they want to be near you when you’re around.
  • Grooming: Chickens will preen and clean themselves when you’re nearby or sitting with them. Sometimes they will even try to groom you!
  • They let you pick them up: This is something that some chickens will never approve of no matter the relationship. But others are content with being picked up or cuddled. Especially if it’s someone that they have a strong bond.
  • Noises: Hens will often make soft, content sounds when they are happy.
  • Sitting on you or with you: Many chickens will come and sit in the lap of someone that they like, and maybe even fall asleep. Some farmers say that their chickens have even laid an egg in their lap!

How do hens show affection to each other?

Hens will usually stick together when outside, sometimes you have that lone chicken who wants to wander off by herself to graze. But for the most part, they will stick near each other. When hens are together and wanting to relax and spend time as a group, you will usually see them huddled next to each other or picking bugs and other things off one another.

Grooming each other is a common respectful behavior among many different species of birds and animals alike. It’s no surprise that when one hen is cleaning another, this is her way of showing love and respect to her coop-mate. Being close to each other, either cuddling or just nearby, is another form of affection they show.

Hens can become attached and develop a strong emotional bond among the flock as well. Some will spend more time with one hen or a rooster than the others, this indicates that chickens do indeed develop specific relationships, friendships and maybe even love one another.

How can you tell if your chickens are happy?

Many beginning chicken farmers or even the new backyard flock raisers will wonder what the signs of a happy chicken are. Besides the obvious, ‘they lay their eggs’ statement, there are several other behaviors and physical signs of a chicken being content and happy. Making sure that you keep an eye on the emotional well-being of your flock is crucial when raising healthy and happy birds.

  • Running to greet you: this is a great sign that your chickens are comfortable and excited to see you. Chickens that feel an emotional connection to their flock leader will tend to be happier as well. Spending time with them can boost their feelings of contentedness.
  • Being active: Unhappy birds will usually stand still and stare off into space or corners. If your chickens are happy with life they are exploring and moving around looking for grubs and other fun snacks.
  • Preening and shiny feathers: Chickens who clean themselves regularly and have healthy, shiny feathers are showing clear signs of pleasant living. When feeling sick or sad, they will stop keeping themselves clean and pretty. Dustbathing is another sign of health and happiness.
  • Perching and roosting: Typically, chickens who are climbing and wanting to perch up high or go into their roost for sleep are happy as well. Staying on the ground and isolating from the others would indicate discontent and possibly sickness or injury.
  • Healthy eggs: Eggs that are produced with a hard, solid shell and a bright yolk is a great indication that your chickens are living a happy and fulfilling life.
  • Happy noises: Hens and roosters will make many different sounds. The noises that show the chickens are happy with their situation will usually be a soft humming when being petted or interacted with. Some think that it is similar to a cat’s purr. If there is a lot of fuss going on among your flock, then that could be a sign of stress among the chickens.

What can you do to help keep chickens happy?

Thankfully, chickens are not too hard to please and keeping them happy can be pretty simple. Ensuring that you provide them with treats and toys and a safe place are just a few things that you can do to help your flock’s mood.

  • The coop: Keeping it clean and well ventilated is among the first things to do. Not only for your chickens health, but for their safety as well. Having a dirty and stuffy coop is no way for your hens to live.
  • Green space: Ensuring that your flock has some green space to explore and graze on will lift the spirits of your chickens as they get some much-needed exercise and enrichment.
  • Appropriate water and food ratios: Not having enough food and water to go around will only cause issues among the flock. Fighting for resources and cranky hens is a recipe for tons of stress among the chickens.
  • Enrichment: Providing treats and toys and other boredom fighting exercises will help a lot with depression and anxiety.
  • Not too many roosters: Having an appropriate hen to cockerel ratio is essential. If there are too many males and not enough hens it will only cause over-breeding and trauma to the females as well as fighting among the roosters.

How to handle and pet your chickens?

Chickens really enjoy food treats as well as being spoiled with pets and cuddles, once they get to know you that is. Some have even taken to asking for pets when they see their favorite person! Learning how to pick up your hens is the first step in understanding how they prefer to be handled.

Aggressively picking them up or not having the correct form for doing so can result in your hen getting upset and not wanting to be handled much. Making sure that you have your chickens familiar with restraint and general touching is important to ensuring a healthy flock as well as having a good relationship with your hens.

  • Build trust: Offering your chickens a treat from your hand will help to build a foundation of trust with your hens. Starting small and only stroking them while they eat from your hand is best at first. As they get more comfortable with you, you can graduate to attempting to pick them up.

Picking up chickens is not like that of a dog or cat. Picking them up and restraining them via the method that farmers have always used tends to be the safest way for the human and the bird. If you have a hen or hens that are not used to being picked up or touched, then try handling them at night once they are quieter and tired. This will help mostly in minimizing resistance from them, hopefully making it easier for them to familiarize with you and being touched.

  • Restraining the wings: Use both hands to pin the wings down to her sides to stop her from flapping. Slowly, while keeping one hand on her back to restrain the wings, use your other hand and place it underneath the hen on her breast with your middle finger between the legs and your other fingers on the outside of the legs to keep her from kicking.
  • Picking up: At this point, you can pick up the chicken, being sure to support her from underneath. Hold them firmly to your body, either with them between your arm and ribs or out in front of you. 

Petting your chickens is pretty simple. While picking them up isn’t similar to a cat or dog, petting them is. They generally prefer to be stroked from head to back like many animals. Sometimes they will even crouch in order to be petted once they are used to it and find it pleasant.

Spending time with your chickens and petting them is a great way to develop a bond with them. Since learning that as a species, chickens are highly emotional and complex birds, earning their respect and love is an even more rewarding part of being welcomed as a member of the flock.

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