15 October 2010

005 - Further Exploration into Crowing and How to Control it

I have recently been asked to write an article that focuses even more on how to keep a rooster from crowing. Out of everything I have trained my chickens to do, this feat seems to be the most impressive and most difficult to achieve for others. I have only spoken to one other person who has had success training roosters not to crow, and to them, it was as much common sense as it is to me, but not everyone is gifted in the ways of animal communication which is what this blog is for.

First and foremost, I can't stress enough that lack of crowing is the same reason why my chickens run to me when they sense danger, why they greet me happily every morning when I open up their curtains, why they let me pick them up and handle them in even the oddest of fashions ( I regularly carry my chickens upside-down for short distances, and toss and catch them ), and why they seek out my company whenever possible. In short, I am dominant, fair, loving, entertaining, stern, and strict, and in that my chickens know they are safe, comfortable, and happy. They know they have no reason to try and fill in gaps with their own dominance under any circumstance. I am dominant to them 100% of the time, and in exchange they are protected, fed, watered, housed, and loved.

The first thing to exercise is boundaries. It is NEVER too young to exercise boundaries - ALL boundaries. From day one, mother hen will teach her chicks what is descent behaviour and what is not, and be VERY firm and strict about it. Chicks don't get any leeway because they are young. They are taught how to eat, how to drink, and how not to die. This means from day one you should set up your boundaries for your chick - where are okay places to walk and play, and where the chicken isn't allowed; what things they can peck at and what things are not okay to peck at; what is appropriate to cry for and what is not; when and where it is okay to perform mating rituals and when and where it is not; and so on.

For example, I NEVER allow a chicken to touch my electronics, but they're welcome to wander my room otherwise. You would be surprised, I'm sure, to see just how well chickens can come to identify such things as "electronics" when appropriate boundaries are set into place. I also teach my chickens that they are allowed to peck at food, dirt, water, and even clothing and hair, but they must mind the intensity of their pecks of clothing, hair, and skin, and they are NEVER allowed to peck at eyes, moles, nose, fingers, etc. My chicks are allowed four days to cry about anything, so that I can gauge their personalities and needs, but after that they may not cry excessively when out of food or water ( this leads to crowing later on - it is okay for them to crow or cry once or twice to let me know they're out, but no more than that ), when unhappy with the way they're being handled, when unhappy with lack of your presence, etc. Last example, my eldest rooster has just begun mating my eldest hen, but sometimes he is rough with her. I have disciplined him when the hen is unwilling, not because of ethical issues pertaining to rape, because those are very human concepts, but because it leads to better socailization overall for everyone, tamer birds, a clear level of dominance on my part to dictate when mating is and is not appropriate, and it also helps teach everyone that they need to be aware of their levels of energy and be calm and controlled about what they do and how they do it. This does not mean lack of fun, it just means that instead of running wildly, knocking things over, and being a general menace, they are aware of their surroundings and respect them as well as themselves and those around them.

That being said, how do I do it? It's easy enough to note desired outcomes, and levels of general behaviour, but how do we get there? Long story short, dominance, but there's also a lot more in it than that. I'm currently working with a chick who has NOT had too much human contact growing up, and is thus not the most well-behaved chicken ever. She cries when I wave my hand over her or walk past her, then screams when I leave her alone, and is constantly "talking" when I have her with me. Her energy level is off the charts, as she goes bonkers over nearly any little thing - a change of food or water, when it's time to treat her wound, when I put her down for the night, and so forth.

First, we take into account that she's a chick, and chicks are naturally more "talkative" than adults. However, that does not condone the behaviour of being excessively talkative or whiny Thus, I started teaching her when it is and is not appropriate to whine, cry, and talk by exposing her to very small stimuli and either agreeing with gentle coos, pets, scratches, and praise, or disciplining with a stern bat on the beak or back of her head ( or feet, if I'm focusing on the lesson "don't kick, flail, and scratch" ). I start by picking her up in a way that is NOT harmful, but she might take as alarming, and let her work her crying out. Sometimes she stops right away, and if that's the case, I give her praise - lots and lots of praise, but if she continues to cry more than a few seconds, I begin batting her beak the way her mother would tell her to knock it off.

Now usually a chicken disagrees with another chicken by pecking their head, right on the top and a little to the back, but this chick has a head injury that I'm tending, so I have to modify it to her beak. An injury does not, however, mean that you should be any "gentler" except in the area of the injury itself - be creative and find another way to disagree with unwanted behaviours, but in the animal world, injured animals don't get a break and they don't UNDERSTAND breaks, either. The only exception I make is immediately after an injury during the "resting" period, I strictly interact with them only to tend the wound, and otherwise have them in a dark, isolated area where they just sleep to help hyper-accelerate the healing process.

Also note that I DO NOT condone the use of provoking an injured area to "add umph" to your disagreement - pain is NOT the goal here, merely distraction. A mother hen does NOT intentionally peck her chicks hard enough to make them cry, it's more of a gesture to say "Hey, knock it off!" When chicks DO cry from being pecked, it is seldom a cry of pain so much as a cry of discomfort - a temper tantrum, if you will.

Understanding this, that the chicks cries are temper tantrums ( you will KNOW if a chicken is in pain as opposed to throwing a tantrum - the pain cry is a much more desperate pitch, and their movements tend to be much more panicked than the "just trying to get away" flailing of a tantrum-throwing chicken ), pain is not to goal of discipline, and that discipline and disagreement is necessary, let's look at a specific situation. The chick I am training cries when I pick her up. She is not in pain nor does she feel she's in danger - she simply doesn't like it and throws a tantrum because of it. She makes an unhappy trill, flaps her wings wildly, cries and screams, and claws at my hand. First step is to grip her in a way that her claws cannot get to my hand, then I flick her feet every time she makes to try and flail them, and once she can no longer do damage to my hand, I move on to batting her beak EVERY TIME she cries or screams until she is silent. I give her a few seconds before I make to set her down - generally, she cries again and the process of batting for screams happens again. Again she's silent and I go to set her down - this usually happens a few times until she's quiet to the point that her feet hit the ground. At this point, she usually tries to stand on her tip-toes, as she is still nervous. Nervous is NOT the right response, and if she cries, I pick her up again and begin batting her beak until she calms, then I set her down and I hold her until she relaxes, then I set her down all the way and scratch her breast ( she REALLY likes having her breast scratched ), and coo at her about what a good girl she is.

The more I do this, the less she cries and struggles and starts to trust my judgement of what will and will not be scary or painful interactions. She begins to learn that by being calm when I handle her or interact with her, she will be perfectly safe and comfortable, and be well rewarded for good behaviour, thus making good behaviour worth whatever odd thing I put her through. After only two days of starting her training ( she's been under my care for only about a week, and the first several days have been strictly medical - ideally, I should have been exercising her behaviours from day one but they did not become intolerable until recently ), she has calmed considerably and no longer screams when I pick her up in an odd way. Albeit, she still does cry to some extent.

That is one very, very specific example, though. An example of how even a crippled chick can learn to behave, and if she were male, or even a female prone to crowing, these exercises would help her understand that crowing is not a behaviour that would result in what she wanted to happen. These exercises are how I have trained my two adult roosters who only crow when out of food or water, or for an extremely short period of time ( less than ten minutes for an entire day ) after I have left them alone.

However, let's look at some topics in further detail, how it works in their heads, and how it can be exercised.


I will always, always, always refer to dominance as a core issue with ANY misbehaving animal. I seldom even have to experience the situation first-hand - I'm yet to find a situation in which dominance is NOT an issue. In the animal world, the dominant animal is the one responsible for other animals happiness, safety, comfort, and general well-being. In the case with chickens, a rooster is usually dominant over a flock, and he crows to communicate with his flock. It's his job to keep everyone up-to-date about what's going on, and keep an eye on what all is going on with the flock. Roosters submissive to him are less likely to crow, but will crow to let him and others around them know what's going on in their neck of the neighbourhood. Often when one rooster crows, others will echo, as a form of long-distance conversation.

Crowing tends to happen for two reasons: dominance, and personal safety. The dominant rooster crows, and receives crows in response so that he can gain head-counts on everyone to know how his flock is doing - he is even able to discern differences in tone of crowing and whether it means "All is well", "I lost a hen", or any number of different messages. The other reason crowing tends to happen is when a submissive rooster spots some sort of danger, and needs to alert the whole flock - a crow is easily the loudest sound a chicken can produce, and therefore the fastest and most reliable form of communicating with an entire flock, possibly of hundreds of chickens. The rooster who called the danger is then responsible for giving the "all clear" and crows again when the danger is gone.

Submissive roosters can also crow if they are in need of help - I once took care of a rooster who slept in a cat carrier at the foot of my bed. He was happiest under a box inside of the carrier - the box being barely big enough to slip over him completely. One night at about three in the morning, he began crowing and crowing and crowing. I sat up to find what was the matter, and I had accidentally kicked the carrier off the bed so that he was on his side and unable to right himself. As soon as I picked the carrier up, and put it back on the foot of my bed, he was silent, and that was the only time he crowed at night after I gave him his box. His crow in that context was essentially saying, "Help me, help me, I've fallen and I can't get up!"

However, even in cases where a rooster is in need of help, it is perfectly justifiable to disagree and discipline if they crow excessively. My roosters know they are only allowed to crow once to denote an issue in their environment. Twice if I've ignored them for several minutes. I disagree by asserting my dominance to them by holding their backs down with one hand, and gently pinching the back of their neck and pushing the head down with the other hand while making certain they are facing me. Most roosters will not go for the precaution of holding the back down, as the head down is the only real necessary goal, but you do not want your chicken to panic and hurt themselves, so holding the back down merely prevents them from flailing and working up a panic. Generally, if they cannot flail after a few seconds, they calm down and submit. I do not consider their submission absolute until I can release them and they stay sitting with their head down until I give them a release command, though.

When an animal tries to dominate a situation, even if they are generally submissive, it usually means that you're handling a specific situation inadequately, and they think they can do a better job. Make sure to not ever give your animals the option of thinking this by dictating when they're let out, when they're fed and watered, when they're given affection, and so forth.

I personally find it perfectly acceptable for an animal to ask for affection, but before gaining affection, they are asked to do something. When my eldest hen and rooster were making a fuss one day, a couple weeks after school started and I had ignored them, I knew they were complaining that I had not taken them out and played with them recently. However, instead of taking them out and playing with them right away, I asked them to sit, stay, and then released them to stand up. I picked them up, one at a time, and tossed them up and down, and worked on their landing on my arm, and several other exercises. After about an hour of working them, we went for a bike ride out to a park where they were allowed to play in the park for several hours until the sun set.

That is a way of allowing your animals to still communicate to you their wants and needs, but not letting them dictate when they get exactly what they want. They looked up to me, and asked for attention. They knew they would work before receiving their affection, and enjoy their work because of it, but never did they TELL me what to do or dictate the situation even if they did get what they wanted in the end.

Nothing says that you can NOT give your animals affection when they ask, but you DO have to be very strict about the conditions of what THEY have to do in order to receive your affection. Otherwise, in that situation you are no longer dominant. For roosters, if they can dictate when and where they get affection, they will start crowing. Think of it ask the rooster saying, "Hey, slave, get over here and pet me already!" This is impolite, and generally volatile behaviour and can even manifest into aggression.

You know the rooster that attacks anyone on sight when they approach the property, or when a stranger tries to get eggs from the hen house? That is a rooster who feels that he is dominant to the humans involved, and thus needn't be polite and ask for what he wants so much as just take it. This is inappropriate and unacceptable in a docile, tame bird, and it is perfectly within our control to teach the bird to be submissive to ALL humans no matter if they are strangers, young, or old by reinforcing that ALL humans have the ability to give and take as they please, and that the rooster ( or even an aggressive hen ) has no place in dictating any of this.


After you make yourself head of the chicken coop, your chickens will look up to you to teach them how to behave appropriately, and it's up to you to warp their behaviours to your desires. All chickens will still have personalities, some will be shier than others, and some will be more confrontational, but you can ALWAYS teach them what is and is not appropriate behaviours. It is inappropriate for the shy chicken to run away from people, scream, or otherwise be fearful ( "shy" is NOT indicative of "fearful" ), and it is inappropriate for the confrontational chicken to pick fights with children, peck at eyes, or try to dictate the way the coop is run if it does not coincide with the way you want it to ( and even then, the chicken cannot think that the coop is being run that way because IT wants it to ).

For every negative behaviour, disagree the way a chicken would, and for every positive behaviour, agree the way a chicken would. Chickens disagree by disciplining one other with pecks or pinning behaviours, and agree with nuzzling, cooing, and feeding one another. A disciplining peck is generally a quick, sharp, and harsh action. It can take others by surprise if they are not totally aware of their poor behaviour, but is a method of putting everyone in line to behave in harmony with everyone else. A praising coo or nuzzle can be simulated by gently scratching the chicken's breast with your fingertips, or even massaging the back of their neck, while saying praise in a low, calm voice. And of course, there is always food as a wonderful praise for these birds - chickens tend to be VERY food-oriented.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that contrary to popular belief, a pecking order is NOT necessary for social harmony! Rather, allowing the chickens to decide who is where on the order is allowing them to overrule you as dominant. You are dominant, and therefore and dictate what behaviours you do and do not want in your flock. For me, my eldest rooster is top of the pecking order because he is the most well behaved and well trained. His place in the pecking order is not maintained by pecking the other chickens, but rather by the amount of attention and praise he gets, and that he is first choice for any special events such as feeding treats, going on walks ( or bike rides in my case ), doing exercises, and so forth. This makes the other chickens see a role model for their own behaviour, quickly understanding that the better they behave, the better they are treated.

This has almost totally eliminated any need I have to monitor introductions between my flock members, because they know that their place in the pecking order is ENTIRELY my choice. Just the other day, when my bantam sizzle ( silkie crossed with a frizzled cochin ) was acting up, I tossed it into the top cage with three standard-sized hens and a rooster for a few minutes while I cleaned up a mess it made. I only had to break up one minor scuffle, and then left them to their own devices for several minutes afterwards in total peace. Any other time I have heard about introducing chickens to existing flocks ( my bantams are separate from my standards ), precautions have to be taken lest a chicken end up injured or even dead. Keep in mind, however, that these ARE flocks that are generally just "birds out there that I feed, water, and get food from" and NOT generally refereed to as pets, as mine are.

You may want to exercise within your flock some general boundaries of what they are and are not allowed to do, and help them figure out what appropriate and inappropriate behaviours are. Without a very, very strict social structure, most animals deteriorate, and very quickly at that. They need someone there to help them learn what an appropriate level of energy is for play and other activities, and how to appropriately outlet their energies as well. Giving your animals tasks ( in the case of my chickens, just general exercises and simple commands ) greatly helps them learn boundaries and appropriate outlets for energy. I plan to build small "obstacle courses" with food at the end so that when my chickens want to eat, they have to accomplish a small exercise beforehand so that they have something to do to outlet their energy instead of just walking in circles all day, which brings us to our next subject..


So now you are dominant in your chicken's eyes, and they understand what their boundaries are, but what about when you're not around? What about when you are? What do they do all day that helps them feel fulfilled and happy? Chickens are intelligent animals and require mental stimulation to be happy. Like parrots, chickens need toys that they can play with to be smarter, happier, more well-behaved birds. I give my chickens waded up pieces of newspaper that I've torn into about four-by-four inch squares or a little larger, and let them throw the balls around, chase them, and otherwise play. Sometimes I will tear paper into strips and hang the strips of paper from the ceiling of their cage, or wave it through the bars and let them figure out how to pull it out, or toss it around.

I try to entice my chickens pray drives, too. This is an essential part of being a chicken, and needs to be exercised for a good quality of life. Chickens are natural predators to bugs, small snakes, lizards, and even mice and shrews. Heck, if a chicken goes down, other chickens will eat it - meat is an essential part of a chicken's diet, albeit a relatively small part compared to the amount of grass they should be eating. If I catch a spider, beetle, fly, or ant in my room, I hold them over my chickens and entice them to go after the bugs. Once they're good enough at pecking the bug from my hand, I let the bug go in their cage.

Some may say that this is cruel, but the chicken needs to have its pray drive stimulated, and they need that part of their diet, too. I am not pulling legs or wings off the bugs before they go into the chicken cage, and the chickens tend to snap them up relatively quickly so there is little trauma on the bug's behalf - besides, bug psychology is much different from that of mammals such as feeder mice, which I do NOT feed my chickens. Like snakes who eat mice or crickets, we have to understand that chickens are omnivorous, and actual actively hunt amongst eating leaves, fruits, and seeds amongst other foods. We have various toys to stimulate cat and dog pray drives, and if you can find a toy to stimulate your chicken's pray drive and have issues feeding them live insects, do that instead - but one way or another, their pray drive needs to be stimulated from time to time.

Chickens LOVE spending time together, as well. Often, the best entertainment you can give them is another chicken to play with. They will walk around together, eat together, and do all sorts of things together just because they love interacting with one another. Some will even argue that a chicken cannot adequately exist without another chicken, but I think this philosophy is the same as with dogs - two or more dogs definitely benefits everyone's thoughts and feelings, but if the owner is oriented enough towards spending time with their pets, it is not totally necessary. I have a flock of seven chickens because I personally believe they feed off each other, and I enjoy their company enough to keep many, but if worse came to worst, I would keep only one to be my personal companion.

Another way to entertain your chickens is by giving them new and interesting foods from time to time. I occasionally spice up their diet by giving them a spoonful of cat food every now and again. They always become quite excited when I crack open a can of cat food, or even tuna, and suddenly all the tricks I've been working with them on that were so difficult days prior seem a cakewalk when treats come into play!

Tricks and exercises are another great way to keep your chickens entertained. An hour a day asking them to sit, stand, come, wait, roll over, up on your arm, and all those other tricks will keep them mentally engaged and feeling fulfilled, especially if you show great joy over their accomplishments and cooperation with you. You can also exercise them by handling them in unusual ways ( holding their wings, playing with toes, comb, or wattles, picking them up under their wings like you'd pick up a small child, raising them in the air and tipping them to face you, and nuzzling their breast, tossing them gently, and encouraging them to land on your arm or be caught by you ). These exercises and tricks helps keep them engaged, and helps reinforce your position as a benevolent leader.


On top of these past subjects, there's some miscellaneous things you can try to keep your chickens feeling submissive, safe, comfortable, entertained, and generally happy. Go out and pick fresh grass, even if you allow them to graze the fresh grass, and put it in their enclosure. I'm not entirely sure what it is about fresh grass simply BEING there, but my roosters consistently crow considerably less whenever they are exposed to fresh grass.

A good, well-rounded, healthy diet also adds to chicken happiness and considerably affects how much chickens are prone to whine, cry, scream, and crow. This is where feeding them bugs, and allowing them to graze in a field or supplement with meat ( cooked or raw ), raw vegetables and fruits, compost, and even some forms of yard waste ( look up what you're giving them and whether or not it's poisonous first ) can help make your chicken happier. Things that are high in grease, fat, or sugar should be avoided at all costs ( except good fats, especially for underweight chickens - but there ARE bad fats to be aware of ), but most compost consisting of vegetable, fruit, and meat matter tends to supplement chickens quite well if you take your compost out every day - but let it sit much longer, and it can harm your chickens, so be aware of how fresh your compost is!

Chickens love being paid attention to, so always make sure that you're at least vaguely aware of what they're doing. I always coo at my chickens when they make excited noises, and bark at them when they're doing something they shouldn't.


When all else fails, your rooster crows and there's nothing you can do about it, you can always try some of these tricks:


That's right, socks. When all else fails, put a sock on their head. When dealing with roosters, and especially cockerels who are just learning how to crow, and learning when and where crowing is appropriate, I use socks that are breathable, but still fit snugly over their heads. I don't like using socks that warp the comb in any way, and short socks are generally a no-no since they can kick the socks off really easily, but a sock that goes all the way down the neck to their breast ( as far down as you can get it, in other words ), tends to do the trick. I have only once had a rooster crow when a sock was on his head, and that was a rather particular circumstance.

I use socks primarily when I have a new rooster and will be gone for just a few hours, or when a rooster decides to crow in the morning when I still want to sleep and it can damn well wait until I'm ready to get up to start complaining about whatever it's complaining about. I use baby socks for bantams and chicks, and I use adult-sized fuzzy, ankle socks for adult standard-sized chickens. Tighter fitting socks work better for chickens with smaller combs ( especially such as rose, pea, or walnut combs ), but looser socks are required for chickens with larger combs to keep from deforming the comb, and possibly creating a painful condition, but whatever sock you use make sure that it is breathable and doesn't hurt the chicken in any way.

When applying the sock, I take the crowing chicken out of the cage and then sit on my knees, pressing their rear end against my knees. Then I roll up the sock, and with my pinky and ring finger on one hand, I grab the head, place the sock on their beak, and unroll the sock over their head. It's usually at this point that they'll squirm and freak out if they are prone to, so I let them wiggle a little bit, and reassure them that everything is fine, then I pull the sock down over their neck and down to their breast. Then I pet and scratch them to make the sock a HAPPY experience, and leave them until it's time to come back and take the sock off.

The sock is in relation to masks used on other animals. It's a general rule that noise is distress, and covering the eyes diminishes stress. Alligators and crocodiles have their eyes taped shut, hawks and owls get little leather masks, dogs and cats get full-face muzzles, and so forth. The idea struck me when I asked myself what falconers do to calm their birds. Ideally, I would have actual chicken-masks for my noise-makers ( I used a sock on a hen that was making a fuss the other day and it worked wonderfully, so roosters crowing is not the only use of socks ), but in the interim, socks work fine.


Towels work very similarly to how socks work, except this is for the chicken that's either too skilled at getting a sock off, too small for a sock, or maybe you don't have any socks to spare for your chickens or ran out of chicken-socks. Instead, you can wrap your chicken in a towel, set him in a box, then put a blanket and / or pillow over the box. Confining the chicken to a soft, warm environment calms them down to the point that they happily just go to sleep, and will happily snooze until you decide it's time for them to wake up.

String or twine on the leg

I've used this method only a few times for VERY insistent crowers. I DO NOT leave the twine or string on the legs for very long, and DO NOT tie it very tight, either. Every time they crowed, I would tug the twine, just to enforce that crowing is undesirable, and something vaguely unpleasant will happen when they crow. These two were masters at escaping the socks ( granted, I didn't have any that fit them properly ), and weren't always privy to sleeping in a box. They were very high-energy and needy, like the border collies of the chicken world - they were campines. For them a much more direct approach was appropriate. I pinned them for crowing whenever they did, or tugged on a string when they crowed, disrupting the crow and giving them a small incentive at a time to knock it off.

That being said, I do NOT condone the use of any of these tools as life-long remedies. Your chickens are NOT well-balanced enough if you have to rely on these methods, but often times they can be used to work towards your goal. Nowadays I use ALL of very, very seldom compared to when I started. When I started I would have multiple chickens in socks, towels, and / or boxes at a time, sometimes multiple times a day. Now I MIGHT use one or the other techniques twice a week, if that, and sometimes we go a month or more without a crow.

All in all, chickens need a dominant person to look up to, who will teach them boundaries and appropriate socailization techniques, they need an environment which is stable, strict, and loving, they need entertainment and to have their senses and minds stimulated every day, they need good diets, and some methods can be used to mediate crowing from time to time. All in all, crowing is an issue that is entirely up to the owner whether or not it exists, and to what degree.

Any other questions, comments, or critiques on this subject I would be more than willing to discuss in the comments, so please feel free to leave a comment if I did not answer your questions in adequate detail! In the mean time, I'm going to crash right here and now and hope I'll find internet in the morning so I can post this.

03 August 2010

004 - How I Raise and Bomb-proof My Chooks

One note before I open this post that I forgot to mention in the last post: The crop. The crop is an organ birds use to digest food by swallowing rocks and allowing the rocks to mash up the food before it is passed on to the stomach. However, you can easy feel the crop at all times, and it is especially prominent and even looks and feels frighteningly like a tumour to the novice bird owner. It lies right on the breast, below the neck, usually off to the right side and NOT centred. Don't worry about this, it's normal.

And with that, onto the post of the day...

This post will be on how I have raised my chickens from hatching to where they are now - well-behaved, well-mannered, quiet, pleasant, happy animals. The two topics I'll discuss are raising and bomb-proofing. "Raising" refers to only what they need to learn to live healthy, intellectually stimulating lives, whereas "bomb-proofing" refers to how to desensitize an animal to various stimuli that might frighten them - children, fast movements, loud noises, other animals ( especially predators if the animal you are bomb-proofing is typically a prey animal ), so on and so forth.

I use bomb-proofing because my goal for my chickens is to have them obtain therapy licenses to be able to go into hospitals, retirement homes, schools, etc. and be able to sit on someone's lap and be otherwise handled. I also want them able to go into a veterinarian's office and be handled when in need of medical procedures if needed, so being okay with restraints is a must for my chickens.

Raising Chickens Healthy in Body, Mind, and Soul

Humans aren't the only ones who need soup for the soul - many animals, including chickens, need it as well. However, the soul isn't the only part that needs tending to - there's also a very intelligent, intellectual side to chickens and, of course, the physical aspect that keeps them alive.


The first thing I consider when raising my chickens is where, or where to put them! I have jumbo dog cages, huge aquarium tanks, tiny bird cages, but no matter what I know I need to put them somewhere that's warm ( or at least capable of holding in heat ), and has room enough for food and water as well as the chick[s].

For chicks, I tend to lean towards aquarium tanks. The tanks are made of waterproof sealed glass, which I can fill with a thin layer of sand, dirt, or any kind of litter, and while being able to watch my chicks easily through the glass, the glass also helps keep them insulated much more than a barred cage would. Tops to aquariums also tend to be easy to find, but I usually use some form of bird netting, mesh, a grate, or a blanket. Aquariums also come in a wide variety of sizes, so I can start my chicks in the smallest one ( give your chicks too much space and they tend to huddle in one corner, but give them a small cage at first, and they'll be more adventurous right off ), and work up as they grow until they're old enough to go into the large dog cages, and finally, a coop when I get one.

Now, chick starting enclosures vary about as much as coops and tractors ( a smallish enclosure, typically without a bottom, that you can cart around your yard so the chickens always have fresh grass beneath them ). I've seen one that I absolutely adore, and wish I had - it's a stilted enclosure put in someone's living room. It's very long, and fairly wide, and quite tall. The top of the enclosure is probably about up to the shoulder of an average-height person, and it has a mesh top that locks into place with a heat lamp on one side, and a little mini-coop ( also called brooder boxes ) under the lamp. There's plenty of room for food and water, and litter is easily cleaned. One side ( the side facing the living room ) is made entirely of glass, so you can always watch your chicks and their antics. I do so want this starter enclosure.

Now, most people use heat lamps to keep their chicks warm, and I used heat lamps for quite awhile, but I found that the light made it hard for me to sleep at night ( my chickens are all kept in my room ), and my chicks often became grumpy and upset when they were exposed to light for days on end. To remedy this, I often carried my young chicks with me in my scarf or in a satchel, allowing them to sleep during the day, and eat, drink, and play all night.

However, as I complained about this to a house mate, she gave me an electric hot pad, which I have been using quite successfully with my newest batch of chicks. They go to sleep at night, wake up during the day, are on the same schedule as everyone else, and seem generally much happier than previous broods I've raised using the heat lamp method. Using the hot pad, they also get to experience the world from day one much more as a normal chick would with their mother - their mother gives them warmth once they have had enough frolicking around outside, but they still experience the normal temperature of their environment while away from their mother. Using the hot pad, I'm able to simulate this by giving them an area that is consistently warm to their liking, but also enabling them to run around their tank at a normal temperature.

It seems to me that they have developed temperature tolerance much quicker and without the various complications that using a heat lamp can cause. With the heat lamp, I have caught enclosures on fire ( and the chicks inside - no worries, they all survived with no lasting damage ), caused hypothermia when a bulb has blown or when having difficulty finding an adequate bulb, caused hyperthermia when using too strong of a wattage, having to monitor temperature very carefully, and monitor reduction of temperature week by week, and many, many other aspects. Using the hot pad, the chicks self-regulate and during colder nights I turn the heat up by a notch or two, and during the day I have it on its lowest setting. The chicks have also done a very good job telling me if they are uncomfortable, and I have had less complaints with the hot pad than I have ever had with the heat lamps.

Also with the hot pad, I've had less need to constantly refill water due to evaporation - and for some reason, chickens burying their water dishes. Now, the one thing I dislike about the aquariums is that I like to train my chickens to drink out of water bottles like the ones that are put into rabbit or guinea pig cages, and in an aquarium, there's not really a grate that you can clip your water bottle to. I have, however, put a small section of grate into an aquarium, burying one end in the litter and taping the top end to the side of the aquarium, and that way I can hang my water bottles, but it is tedious to clean and maintain.

For chicks I usually start with a very, very shallow bowl or even something as shallow as a jar lid. I usually take my smallest chick when first introducing them to their water dish, and stick them IN the dish, while full of water, to see if they can make it out easily had they accidentally fallen in, themselves. If they have issues getting out of the dish itself, or if the dish is deep enough that the water level touches their belly, I find a new dish. I have only ever had one chick drown, and that's because I was rooming thirteen little chicks with four chicks that were about two weeks older than them, so the bigger chicks and the sheer number of chicks required a larger water dish. And even then, only one fell victim.

I have tried placing the bowl above the level of the litter to avoid chickens burying their water dish, as has been recommended to me, but I generally find that chickens try to stand on the edge of their dish and therefore knock it over, causing litter to quickly become a disgusting quagmire, and emptying their water even quicker than had I not even bothered to raise it. What I have found works, however, is to bury it slightly, which allows chickens to treat the dish as a puddle - no need to stand on it and knock it over, and though it WILL become buried, I find this method much better than letting them knock water all over the place.

Now say you have money and are able to buy fancy water dishes. The best dish I have found is a deep bowl with a large cannister of water placed upside-down on one end of the bowl - this works in a similar way as water towers work. The cannister of water continuously fills up the bowl, but only to the point that the water becomes level with the spout, until the water falls out. The base tends to be broad and well-enforced, with broad, tall edges. This covers ALL bases that I have found recommended for water dispensers - it is raised, yet with such broad edges and base, and especially with the weight of the water cannister, it does not knock over when chickens decide to stand on it. Due to being raised, it does not get litter in it as chickens scratch for food, and I have found that something about it makes it unpleasant for chickens to roost or otherwise drop stool into the water, so the water stays fresh and clean.

Still, I swear by water bottles... so long as they don't leak. Water bottles hold water until a chicken wants to drink from it, there is no way for dirt or stool to enter the water supply, they're quick and easy to maintain, and keep water for quite some time before needing to be refilled in most cases. My chickens have stayed best hydrated when using water bottles, and, being chickens, they don't forget how to drink out of dishes or puddles if the need arises.

I have found it quick and easy to teach my chickens how to drink from water bottles. I take a moment to take each chick ( or even full-grown chicken ) and place his / her beak INTO the spigot, and repeat until they tip their head back and acknowledge that water comes from there. I do this twice a day, until they catch on - usually within about four days. One of my broods I introduced to water bottles from day one and they were learning really well, but the bottle I had leaked very badly. I had them on bowls until recently when I found a new water bottle, and due to their knocking over and burying their bowl, they were quite thirsty so the moment they saw a drop of water fall from the water bottle, they all automatically knew exactly where the water was and how to get it. For the first couple of days they were clumsy, pecking the spigot, and trying to bite it, until they finally started tipping their heads, pushing their beaks into the spigot, lapping up the water, then tip their head back and drink. Now everyone has the water supplier they need, and everyone is quite happy.

As for food, I like to stick to dishes when I can, but as with water, dishes can be knocked over, and some chickens even think dishes are nests to be sat in. I worked hard training my chickens NOT to sit in their food dishes ( give them a light bap on the head and prod them to move ), and now none of my chickens try to roost in their food dishes anymore, but it still takes a very specific dish to hold food. The only dish I have that can withstand being stood on is a large bowl I made in pottery class.

All other cages, I toss food in on the ground ( other cages are enclosed tanks, so chickens scratching for food isn't an issue ). Chickens have fun scratching for their food, so it's not too much of a big deal. With young chicks, however, I tend to use dishes until they start tipping over or burying their dishes, just so they have one uniform location to find food until they learn what food is ( usually the dish is retired within a few weeks ).

My house mate feeds her chickens compost. Anything from vegetable matter to grease and gristle and coffee grounds. I personally support giving chickens compost, but I don't do it myself because, well... I'm not going to tolerate rotting food matter in my room. If they were outside, they could have all the compost they would want, but since they're not, I, personally, do not use compost. I will, however, occasionally ( I try to aim for once or twice a week ) go outside and pick fresh grass, dandelions, and clovers for my chickens. Chickens allowed to free-range tend to get well over half of their essential nutrients from grass, and fresh grass tends to help keep my roosters from crowing ( likely, because they are happy ).

To spice up my chickens crumble diet, I also top off with a couple spoonfuls of cat food - generally, Friskies or Fancy Feast brands. I don't worry about chicken or turkey-flavoured cat food because naturally, chickens tend to be cannibalistic, and if it's in a can, it's unlikely they'll realize that their room mates would taste the same. The cat food is a real treat, and the chickens love it. Some people use meal worms or grubs for treats, and I have heard great things about that, as well - especially grubs since you can grow and cultivate them on your own.

When my chickens seem to be feeling down or a little ill, I have brewed them a cocktail of yogurt, crushed garlic, vinegar, and rolled oats ( or plain oatmeal ). I try to avoid anything with sugar, because animals ( including humans ) aren't built to deal with sugar, so I would advise plain yogurt and plain rolled oats. Despite what you might hear about birds being lactose intolerant, I have found little to no issue feeding my birds yogurt from time to time to help boost their immune system.

In this cocktail, the benefits include:
* Yogurt - helps add good bacteria to the digestion tract that fight and consume other bacterias
* Garlic - an overall immune-booster like vitamin C ( be careful not to add too much! Only about one clove per ten chicks, or one clove per two or three full-grown, standard-sized chickens - garlic CAN be detrimental to chickens in large quantities )
* Vinegar - like garlic, helps boost immune systems, though both garlic and vinegar work in different ways
* Rolled Oats - gives the mixture texture, as I have found my chickens more likely to enjoy chowing down on something with texture than a sloppy, goopy mess

And lastly, for body, exercise. Your chickens need exercise. This can come in the form of letting them out to roam every day if your chickens are free-range, or it could be in the form of teaching your chicken tricks ( "fetch" and "come" are common ), or even aspects of physical therapy ( moving your chicken's wings, legs, toes, etc. to extend in various ways ).

I try to use a little of all of these. When I have the ability, I like to take a few chickens at a time with me out into the field. I'm a little hesitant about taking them ALL out, especially unsupervised, since there is a family of hawks that live on the outskirts of the field and hunt the field frequently, but taking a few out at a time, especially when leashed, is a wonderful way to get everyone some outdoor time, exercise, and a bit of extra nutrients, especially if they catch some bugs.

I teach my chickens many tricks that can exercise them. I have not yet taught a chicken to fetch, but I would like to work on it. Instead I have Sit, Play Dead, we're working on Roll Over, but mostly ( and most impressively, if I might say so myself ), I have taught several of my chickens to ride my bike with me. Balancing on the handlebars does a lot to strengthen their legs. On top of all of this, I also play "chicken toss" with my friends, which helps teach chickens to fly and use their wings, and also helps them learn to trust people, since people will catch them and give them praise upon landing. This also helps me train my chickens to aim their landings, and be generally more manoeuvrable in the air.

Several of my chickens I also give messages and stretch their limbs. I take their wings and pull them upwards, and down, back and forward, encouraging my chickens to reach their full potential in range of motion while also gently working their muscles, and I do the same for their legs, helping bring the leg all the way back, and then forward ( I often times find forward easier because they will hold your finger and allow you to pull ). The trick here is to NOT force them to make these movements quickly, but rather ease their limbs into these NATURAL positions, and stop forcing their movement as soon as you meet resistance ( other than the chicken not being used to the motion and pulling away ). Giving your chicken massages regularly will also help loosen their muscles which will help them perform better.


Intellectual exercises for you chickens are also important. To start with, a mother chicken gives her chicks boundaries from day one. I also begin bomb-proofing at day one, but more on that later. Psychological needs of a chicken include boundaries, exploration, learning, interaction with mates, and pleasing their flock leader.

Boundaries are important because it helps the chick learn its place in its social hierarchy - if you aren't tough on your chick to begin with, you might be setting your chick up for failure upon introducing it to the rest of your flock. Well-disciplined chicks tend to get along better with established flocks, in my experience. Well-disciplined adults are also important, and when both my adult and chick are well-disciplined I tend to find little to no fighting whatsoever.

Now, one thing Millan ( Cesar Millan - "The Dog Whisperer" ) states, which I strongly agree with, is that there is a very definite difference between "discipline" and "punishment". Punishment is when you are mean or act out of malice, and your motives for WHY punishment is being given is unclear and thus only traumatizes or terrorizes the recipient. Discipline, however, is when you are calm and direct, and express disagreement with a behaviour. Discipline is a way of setting boundaries, and is always done calmly and clearly, whether "clear" means words to your child, a quick touch or "bite" to your dog, or "peck" to your chicken.

Though I sometimes become frustrated with my chickens, I try to NEVER punish them. I try to always make certain that I know what I'm unhappy with, and communicate exactly that - take nothing out on them, and if I feel myself becoming over-emotional over disagreeing with their behaviours, I either take a moment to take a deep breath and ground myself, or walk away from the situation for a few minutes to clear my head. Discipline must always be done with love.

For my chicks, discipline means not screaming for attention ( a scream or shout should ONLY be used when they need something - food, water, or warmth for instance ), not crowing ( again, unless it's necessary such as lack of necessities ), no aggression or fear towards humans, no rushing food or water dishes, and many other rules my birds must obey.

For the first few days, we test each other. They scream, and I respond to see if anyone is hurt, cold, overheated, thirsty, or hungry, but if nothing is obviously wrong, everyone gets a gentle "peck" and I go back to what I was doing. If they continue to scream, I may look deeper into the situation depending on the level of urgency - you can often tell a difference in tone between true distress and attention-seeking.

This is also where training and teaching tricks comes in handy. Chickens are flock animals, and just as dogs are pack animals, they are eager to please the head of their flock. If you can teach them something that makes you happy - be it cute or useful - then they will feel happy being able to please you. When my chickens are calm while I handle them, I scratch their heads and breasts, and tell them what good chickies they are. Their usual response is to close their eyes and coo happily, and totally relax.

Chickens also need new things to keep them interested and happy. For many of my chickens, this comes in a form of a paper ball. I first introduced the balls to keep my chickens from eating the newspaper that I set down as bedding, but quickly found that they liked to play with the balls, from tossing them to shaking them. I try to do little things for them now and then like stick something to the ceiling or wall of their cage ( such as a clover leaf ) that they can peck at, or sprinkle some food on a platform just above their heads that they can still reach if they stand straight up and stretch.


This one may be debatable, but I strongly believe all creatures have souls that need to be fed just as much as we do, and the first step to feeding the soul is to make sure all physical needs are met, and then to make sure psychological needs are met. After that is enrichment. I like to enrich my chickens lives by playing music for them when I'm not home, and taking them with me, especially when I go into crows so that they can meet new people and be appreciated by many people at once instead of just me.

With Bo, Socrates, and my new little Japanese boy, Sindri, I help enrich their lives by taking them on bike rides. They enjoy the ride, and even more enjoy the attention they gain from meeting people who want to pet them and enjoy their presence. Petsmart and Petco are both wonderful places to take them, but I don't oft make it to the stores unless I need a new water bottle, harness, or otherwise ( AND have the money to shell out for it ).

Sindri's mate recently died, and he's been behaving slow, lethargic, passive, uninterested, and generally as someone would while grieving, and recent studies have helped prove that chickens do, in fact, grieve. In order to combat this, I bought him a tiny harness ( Bo and Socrates use cat harness - I had to buy Sindri a small kitten harness ), which can hook up to one of the two leashes I have quite well, and he rides on top of my hand while I bike. He still behaves somewhat uninterested some of the time, closing his eyes and dozing off, even allowing himself to just flop over onto my arm, but most of the time his eyes are wide and bright, as his tiny head flicks back and forth, watching the landscape go by. Today when I took him out and let him run around a park, for the first time, I saw him rear up, flap his wings, and make several happy chirrups.

Now, some may say that I am humanizing chickens, but I assure you, that is the last thing I want to do. I know that people in America tend to humanize their pets, which causes a great deal of grief on their pets since they aren't humans and don't think like humans. I assure you, I am using human-like terms in order for the average American to understand where I'm coming from, and I would also note, much to my surprise, chickens seem to share many thought processes with humans such as grief and love. I was sceptical of "love" the first time I heard someone mention it, but every time I saw Sindri with his mate, they were never more than a couple feet away from each other, and if they were stationary, it was guaranteed that Sindri would have his wing over his mate. At first, I thought it coincidence, that she probably just nuzzled underneath him and he was such a passive boy that he probably just left his wing there, but when I saw the nuzzling, I knew I should question this thought process - he in fact, lifted his wing for her to crawl under, and once she was comfortable, he would drape his wing over her and then make himself comfortable as well. And the way he behaves after she passed really says a lot to me.


I find bomb-proofing to be one of the most important aspects of raising an animal, any animal. Bomb-proofing is especially mandatory if you have children, or expect your animal to be around children very often, as well as if you expect your animal to be in crowds at any point.

I use bomb-proofing to desensitize my chickens to everything short of outright abuse. I rub them like someone might energetically rub their dog, I scratch their rumps ( I have found many chickens to be unnerved by touching of the rump ), I hold their wings, feet, tails, beaks, combs, and wattles, lie them on their backs ( often on my chest as I lie down, too ), I hold them upside-down above me and nuzzle them, telling them what good birds they are all the while, and what I start with first and foremost is rubbing the chicks all over my face. On top of these actions, I also exercise patience while holding onto specific body parts, or holding a chicken in a particular restraint so that they never have to suffer from stress if any of them end up in an auction or a veterinarian's office.

Why do I do this? Because it helps an animal be well-mannered in public for one thing, but it also minimizes the things that stress them out, which leads to a happier, healthier, more enriched life overall. I want my chickens to be around children and other animals, and I especially want to be able to give them semi-frequent physical exams for quick tests in case they start growing a mass ( usually "tumour" ), have respiratory issues, or otherwise need to be checked out or handled. Restraints are very important to me, because EVERY animal will go to the vet someday, so why make it a stressful experience if it can be helped? Also, if your animal is EVER going to be around children, or in public ( which often has children ), a child WILL eventually try to pull your pets tail, push them, grab their fur / feathers, poke them, or what-have-you. It's unfair to your animal not to prepare them for these experiences.

For one, I want my chickens to be therapy animals. A therapy animal has to be well-mannered, well-behaved, and above all else, tolerant. I do NOT want my chickens so tolerant that they take a beating without so much as batting an eye or squeaking, but I DO want them to be able to take a single tug on the feathers, and trust that if it happens, I will be there to take care of it and monitor their well-being. I want them to feel safe in knowing that they have never been, nor ever will be, seriously injured in my presence, and therefore are able to trust my judgement fully and not feel the NEED to be aggressive or fearful.

There are several types of bomb-proofing that can be done. There's physical bomb-proofing ( being touched, poked, pet ), sound bomb-proofing ( fireworks, thunder, gunshots ), visual bomb-proofing ( bright lights, darkness ), and psychological bomb-proofing ( helping prey not fear predator, overcoming fears and phobias ).

Physical Bomb-proofing

Physical bomb-proofing is usually what I start with, because it's generally the easiest and helps build trust between dominant human and submissive bird very quickly. This is the act of helping your animal not feel threatened by things touching them, no matter where they might be touched.

I start with physical bomb-proofing just by holding my chickens. With chicks, this is fairly easy, but a full-grown and mature chicken may be a little more difficult. When my house mate gave me a full-grown and mature Welsummer rooster who had very little in the way of human contact ( and even less in the way of POSITIVE human contact ), I started our relationship by spreading out a towel over my lap and watching a movie while he sat in my lap, and I either very gently pet him or just rested my hands on his back. I also took him into my room and had him sleep on the foot of my bed, partly because it helped minimize crowing in the morning ( which is where neighbours complain about it ), but also because when chickens wake up to something, they feel more comfortable with it ( which is why if introducing a chicken during the day doesn't work, sometimes it WILL work if you stick the new chicken in the coop while everyone is asleep and it will ).

After he was okay with me picking him up, and sitting on my lap, I started gently patting his head. Every time he could scream, I would give him a peck which varied in intensity in accordance to the scream or sound of alarm, and when he was silent after a peck, I would scratch his head instead. He quickly learned not to panic, and to just be calm and complacent.

After he stopped panicking when I would approach his head to pet him, I started gently pinching his comb, and stroking his wattles, then gently scratching the very top of his head, and worked up to the point where he was totally comfortable with me holding his tail ( because he had WONDERFUL tail feathers that I loved to twist and twirl around my fingers ), scratching his comb, stroking his wattles, scratching his breast, or even petting his back right down to his rump. He was totally content.

My house mates chose to slaughter him since he was making noise, not very fertile AT ALL, and didn't grow up with the social skills to deal with the hens and had killed one of the bantams by being too rough with her. Regardless, the work I put into bomb-proofing him paid off because in the end, he didn't struggle to be slaughtered at all, and didn't even scream. To me, even though the chicken I was dealing with died, that was a success because he died without fear, without trauma.

Other chickens and other forms of physical bomb-proofing, I usually start rubbing my face against them ( or rubbing them against my face if they're small enough ), because let's face it, kids like to hug things and usually hugging means also nuzzling their faces against it. Children also like to get close to things their interested in, and if my chickens were to peck a child's eye because they got too close, that would be unacceptable for public.

After getting them used to being rubbed, pet, picked up, and held, I start holding onto beaks, combs, wattles, feet, and wings. Most of these are for the sake of restraining, if something were to happen to them. For instance, there's been a few occasions in which a veterinarian has had to look in Bo's mouth. I have trained him the command "Open up" and more universally "Let me see" to mean that I am going to grab him, and not let go until I'm done doing what I have to do. In the case of "Open up," I am asking him to tolerate me grabbing his comb and wattles, and pulling apart in order to open his mouth, usually to see if he has swallowed something he shouldn't. I bomb-proofed him to this by gently stroking his wattles, and from time to time gently tugging on them. That worked up to "lip-synching" to music, and now he lets me open his mouth and look inside whenever I want.

"Let me see" also refers to his wings and feet. I also start these at a young age ( chicks don't have combs and wattles you can grab, usually even if they're male ), so that they are learning these skills as boundaries and thus, psychological fulfilment. I like these two restraints as well because the anatomy of both the wing and foot are quite fascinating in my opinion, and some of the most beautiful colourations on birds aren't evident until they spread open their wings.

Audio Bomb-proofing

I have taken several of my chickens with me to fireworks, fairs, and many other very loud, boisterous places. After taking time to work up trust while physically bomb-proofing your chicken, the rest of these should be a cakewalk, because the first few loud noises they will look at you as if to ask "What do I do now?!" and from what I've experienced, so long as I keep a calm demeanour and behave as if it's normal, my chicken will hunker down and go "Oh, okay then," and that's that. I've never had to do more to bomb-proof my chickens from sound, even from small children screaming at alarmingly loud and high pitches right in their ears.

However, if your chicken IS afraid of sound, you can try finding a recording of the sound and sitting your chicken down in your lap. Play the sound, first at a low volume and make sure your chicken is calm. Sometimes they squirm and flail. I put my hand on their back and keep them sitting, but let them flap their wings in order to expend the pent-up anxiety. After a moment, your chicken will realize that it is not going anywhere, and calm down. Your chicken MAY be panting at this point - don't worry, this is normal, especially for an anxious chicken.

I will usually keep hold of them in my lap, and neither look at them, make noise, or move my hands until they calm down, then I will look at them and pet them gently, calmly. I try to make little noise, but sometimes a coo or an excited-happy noise can help the chicken takes its mind off of the scary noise. As the chicken relaxes, you can slowly turn the volume of the sound up and up, and repeat this day after day until the chicken is no longer fearful of the noise.

Visual Bomb-proofing

Visual bomb-proofing is probably the easiest that I have come across... and likely because it's the least common. During fireworks, my chickens had a few objections to some fireworks that lit up like flash bombs, but again, with the trust gained in physical bomb-proofing, they looked to me and I behaved like nothing was out of the ordinary, which told them all would be well, and it was.

However, almost all of my chicks have had objections to darkness the first couple times they experienced it. I think, mostly, because they can't see and don't know where others are. The first few times I encounter this, I go and check on the chick, who has usually wandered away from the rest of the brood and is cold or scared that it doesn't know where everyone else is, but after a few times of helping it find its way back, I will ignore it so that it can learn on its own. Usually after not much more than a minute, the frightened peeps will turn to contented coos as it finds is way back to its brood.

Fast movements are similar, but unlike the innate looking at me and seeing that I'm telling them they're fine, they will often need help with this one. Chickens are, generally, prey animals ( though to some smaller animals such as mice, lizards, frogs, snakes, and of course insects, chickens are predators ), and as such, chickens instinctively fear fast movements.

To cure this, I will hold a chicken, pet it, lure it into a calm state then gently pat its head. Often times the head-patting can look like a hawk swooping down at the chicken, or a paw or claw swiping. I have had at least two chickens deathly afraid of things moving overhead, especially fast movements towards them, and they would duck and scream in the event. I helped them with this by setting them in my lap and "menacing" them by waving my hand ( slowly at first ) above their head, in front of their face, or towards and away from the side of their face ( where their full vision could be on my hand ). The less they reacted, the more praise they would get.

I even got to the point where I would flail my hand, or swing it in as if about to slap them, but stop and scratch them. I ONLY went to this point once they were comfortable with my hand moving around them at a moderate pace - and I NEVER risked actually hitting the chicken.

Psychological Bomb-proofing

Psychological bomb-proofing, or fighting instinct and phobias, is probably the hardest one to deal with on this list. This is likely because instincts are hard-wired into the animal, and phobias are irrational fears that have come to stick for some reason or another - usually, their handler's fault for accidentally approaching a subject wrong.

Instincts I find a little easier to re-wire, because chickens respond well to positive reinforcement and gentle discipline - remember, discipline, not punishment, as it should always be done calmly, clearly, and out of love and not malice or frustration. I have helped chickens to not be afraid of dogs and cats by bomb-proofing them up to this point as I have described, then have them on my lap, or near me while introduced to a large, predatory animal, which I make certain is behaving appropriately towards my birds, as their trust in me relies solely on the fact that I can control their environment in such a way as to be safe for them.

Phobias, on the other hand, are a little trickier. It is not always necessary to find the origin of a phobia, though the origin can give some insight on how to approach the situation, but usually gently coaxing through the situation is all that is needed. The key is to make certain the animal is making the choice to go through the situation with you simply encouraging it to do so, not you dragging it through the situation and FORCING it to cope - that can even make things worse if done wrong.

Specific phobias are another post all together, though, and probably won't happen for a long, long time. Unless someone asks for a specific phobia to be touched on.

As always, any questions, comments, concerns about my posts, or requests on what I should write about in the future, please Email me or leave me a comment. Please Email if you feel your statement is urgent, but comment for requests of topics or less urgent statements or inquiries. Thank you!

20 July 2010

003 - What is My New Chick Trying to Say to Me?

So you bought some chicks, looking to start a flock, but you have no idea what they're trying to say to you! That's what this post is going to be about. New chicks, where they come from, what they eat, how they communicate, and more.

Where to Find New Chicks

First thing is where to procure new chicks. The first chicks that came into my life were bred by my house mate, the eggs set in a styrofoam incubator for twenty-one days, and then put into a tank in her bathroom until I felt comfortable having them in my room ( at the time I had lost seven chicks, and had only JUST started raising chickens so was still uncomfortable around them, but allured by their adorable fuzzy butts and content cheeps ). Out of seventeen chicks ( hatched from eighteen eggs ), I chose Bo, Socrates, Jules ( originally Julie ), and Cassiopeia ( shortened to Cassi ) to raise, in the end only keeping two. I knew right away who was going to be mine and who would be my house mates - whenever I separated Jules and Cassi, the other one would scream and wail until reunited. I couldn't have that.

My second batch of chicks were also bred by my house mate ( but kept in my room from day one ), but my third and fourth batch came from Del's Feed Store. My fifth and most recent batch came from an Auction. On top of these, you can also order your chicks from a hatchery such as Murray McMurray, purchase chicks from a local breeder, find chicks at shelters ( albeit, shelters tend to have older or even adult chickens ), or maybe you just found a chick that wandered into your lawn one day and couldn't find its owner.


My experience with feed stores and auctions has been poor. Most animals taken to auction are unwanted, uncared for, and sometimes even diseased or otherwise in very poor health. The two Japanese that my house mate purchased from an auction were in surprisingly good condition ( they even smelled like pet shampoo as if the person that sold them dolled them up in hopes they would go for a higher price ), but the two silkies she purchased were underfed, and one of them has what looks like a very painful foot condition in which the two outside toes ( neither of the back toes ) have grown UNDER her foot, causing her to have difficulty walking and balancing, and is possibly quite painful. My house mate also purchased a turkey chick with a rather nasty eye infection.

Feed Stores

Feed stores are kind of hit-and-miss. I have noticed that many of my chickens purchased from feed stores have minor genetic defects that void them from being able to be shown, but I doubt have any effect on their ability to lay or produce meat. I have not had any chicks reach maturity yet ( my eldest from Del's are about three months old ), so I don't know if feed store chicks have the same amount of defects when it comes to producing meat / eggs as they have so far had with show quality such as floppy combs, poor colour, etc. Then again, breeding for show quality, and meat / egg production are two very different lines of breeding and generally, a feed store focuses on meat / egg production as opposed to show. Still, I realize now that buying from a feed store is akin to purchasing from a pet store, and should be avoided. In the future I will look for local breeders, and in shelters, but for now I have what I have and I will love them all the same.

On top of genetic defects, I have also been sold sick chicks from feed stores. A couple of them died within a few days after showing signs of illness since the moment I brought them home, and one even spread the disease "coccidia" throughout my entire flock. The feed store was willing to do nothing about it - not compensate me for the deathly ill chick or the chicks I lost because of it, nor were they willing to take any further precaution with their own chicks in sanitizing cages, isolating, etc.


I've heard mixed reviews of hatcheries. Some people swear by them, some people damn them. I, myself, have never had any experience with hatcheries. I know that different hatcheries have different reputations - the most common hatchery that I know of is Murray McMurray, and I've heard fairly good things about the birds that come out of their shipments. Some things that hatcheries do that some people disagree with is hatching lots of chicks in an incubator, and not with their mothers, shipping at a young age ( or shipping at all ), and discriminating between male and female - often times discarding males the moment they're sexed at hours old. Different hatcheries work different ways, and I've never talked to the people at Murray McMurray so I have no idea how they work. I do know that people disagree with shipping because the chicks are often times mailed in regular class, and often on air planes all across the country, being shipped with regular-class mail and not even where pets are regularly shipped. There have been some reports of chicks arriving frozen to death. The other issue some people have with shipping is lack of food or water for the first day, sometimes two. However, I question this because when hatching naturally, the mother hen will sometimes sit on her nest without eating or drinking, or even allowing her newly hatched chicks to eat or drink for the first two days until EVERYONE has hatched. Hatcheries also generally require you to purchase 25+ chicks at a time, intending business for commercial farmers and not regular backyard birds.


Just as with puppies and kittens, looking for local breeders of chickens should be done with scrutiny. Just because someone is a local breeder does not mean that they take good care of their animals - a breeder should never make a profit from breeding. Any respectable breeder will tell you that breeding is just a hobby, and the amount of money they make from selling chicks should barely exceed the amount of money it takes to raise a healthy brood. Just like auctions and feed stores, breeders can be hit-and-miss until you learn how to discern good breeders from bad breeders - the biggest way to tell is the amount of profit they make from selling chicks in relation to raising them, and the facilities in which they breed. Asking to see the parents is very important. See their personalities, temperaments, colouration - look for any defects in their parents or their siblings. If you see anything, inquire about it. Maybe ask the breeder what they hope to accomplish - are they trying to better the breed, or is it just a hobby? Either answer is a good one, so long as they are passionate about what they are doing. If they are not willing to show you their facilities, or if the facilities are poorly taken care of, or if the breeder is not certain which chickens are the parents, these are all red flags.

Breeding Your Own Chicks

Unless you plan on keeping all of your chicks, I would personally not advise breeding your own. There is about a 50% ratio of males to females when breeding, and there is a gross overpopulation of males going unwanted. Most factory farms that hatch their own chicks will do quite awful things to their males when they are only hours old from gassing them to throwing them into a trash bin, still alive, and crushing them by stomping on the trash bin to pack down the unwanted males. Females on factory farms are sometimes debeaked ( their head is shoved into a machine with searing hot blades that slices off the beak then cauterizes the bleeding ), often causing life-long pain and difficulty eating.

If you do breed your own chicks, you'll have to understand broodiness ( a subject for another post ), and incubating your own eggs. In short, "broodiness" is when your hen decides she wants to hatch some eggs, stops laying, and will sit on anything vaguely egg-shaped ( I've even seen a hen sit on a bunch of newly born kittens ). Incubating your own eggs takes an incubator and turning the eggs now and then ( I will have to do some more research before I can give a very good description on how to incubate your own eggs ).

Breeding your own chicks is, however, probably the best method for controlling the quality of chick you produce. You can manage your own flock, look for genetic defects, take care of them from day one, and don't have to worry about their life before they came to you, purchasing chicks, etc. You can even start breeding for specific traits that you, personally, find appealing.


From my understanding, shelters seldom have young chicks available, but they will often have adult chickens or sometimes even juvenile. Most people will keep their chicks until they start showing obvious signs of being either male or female, and if they don't slaughter their males, or give them away for free, the males usually end up in shelters. The unfortunate truth is that many, many more males are in shelters than females, and people usually pick up males to eat or fight. I'm a firm believer that male chickens can be wonderful pets, and it is quite unfortunate that males end up as unwanted as they are. I have never picked up a chicken from a shelter, but in the future I will certainly try.

On top of each of these ways to obtain chicks, you can sometimes purchase fertile eggs and hatch them at home. These are generally cheaper since there's no guarantee they'll actually hatch, and hatching is a time-consuming process. You can usually purchase fertile eggs in lieu of newly-hatched chicks from hatcheries, breeders, and even auctions. I have not seen fertile eggs for sale in feed stores, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were there, too.

The First Day...

So you just brought home your chicks ( or they just hatched ). The first day your chicks will probably be clumsy, and curious, but it's fairly likely that they'll just sit in one place and hang out there for the first few days until they become comfortable with their surroundings. On the other hand, your chicks might want to get into everything! My general experience with day-old chicks is that they are needy and cuddly, and mostly just want to stay warm and snuggled up with something they can call "Mum"... but they're also curious and will want to wander around a little bit, but seldom manage much more than a minute or two before they want to be held again.

How to Encourage Eating and Drinking

This is the most important lesson for chicks to learn - it will quite literally stay with them for the rest of their lives. Chicks need to learn how to eat and drink. They can learn through experimentation, but it's best to teach them right away where food and water are. Teach your chick where water is by gently pushing its head down until its beak is in the water. Repeat until the chick tips its head up and guzzles some water - you'll see their little neck vibrating as they lick up the water in their beak and let it drain down their throats. Chickens cannot sip, gulp, or chew, so when they drink water they try to lap up a nice mouthful, then tip their heads back to let the water drain down their throats. Eating is a similar process.

To teach your chick to eat, take your index finger and "peck" at their food. Make a high "Peep peep peep!" sound to imitate when a chick has found food and is telling the other chicks that food is near. Otherwise, you can imitate an older chicken finding food with a lower-pitched "gurble gurb-gurb-gurb gurrrble!" I have had more success using a sound imitating a chicken of the same age as the chicken I'm trying to encourage to eat. Once one chick starts to eat, others will likely follow.

What to Feed Your Chick

Chicks need a high-protein diet. You'll find that most chick starter is about 24% protein. If you don't have any chick starter, use scrambled eggs, but I would discourage bread crumbs or crackers. It is important that the egg be scrambled and not fried or boiled so that the egg crumbles apart into tiny sections that the chicks can easily peck at and pull apart. Chicks have a very sensitive digestive system and can't handle much variety at this point - try to get them on a chick starter as soon as possible, and stick with the starter with very, very little supplementation of anything else until they're at least fully feathered ( I tend to wait until they're two or three months old before I start supplementing with All Purpose Poultry, and other food stuffs such as compost, bread, crackers, oatmeal, fresh grass, etc. ).

I tend to use a medicated chick starter, just because when I DIDN'T use a medicated chick starter ( I was interested in my chicks being healthy and organic ), they came down with coccidia and I almost lost all of them. When consulting my local chicken-knowledgeable vet, he said that I needed to get them on the medicated chick starter as soon as possible. Since the medication doesn't hurt them, but rather helps boost their immune system, I have no issues medicating them for their first few months, especially if it means I can fight coccidia before it even starts.

If you intend to use any sort of medicine with your chicks, make sure you research the appropriate detox period before you begin consuming eggs or meat, because the medicine can affect you through egg or meat products from your chickens, and after being processed by the body, the medication can be dangerous to humans - on top of that, it's medicine designed for chickens, not humans, so it's probably bad for you to begin with!

Enclosures for Your Chick

When I started with chicks, they went into a cardboard box, but I quickly threw it out ( literally ) when one of the boxes caught fire. Luckily, all of my chicks survived, and after that I have strictly been using glass aquariums with some form of netting or metal grate on top in order to allow for air flow, but not allow the chicks to jump out. Since the heat lamp was keeping me up at night, my latest batch of chicks have been given an electric hot-pad to snuggle up with that I keep on either "Medium" or "Low" temperature. They are quite content with their hot pad, and it doesn't shine light through my room all night long, keeping my other chickens and myself awake. I've also noticed that with the hot-pad I can keep my chicks on a regular day-night schedule which seems to keep them much happier.

I have seen many other types of enclosures for chicks, and my previous enclosure was a giant aquarium with a heat lamp on one end with a box underneath it ( the box had a "door" cut into it so that the chicks could have a safe little hiding place that would absorb the heat in case the rest of the tank was too cold ). The aquarium is quite long so they could either huddle under the lamp ( or in the box ) for heat, or escape the heat by moving to the opposite side of the aquarium. I have been trying to train all of my chickens to be water-bottle dependant ( I push their beat into the tube until they get a little water and guzzle it down - it generally only takes a few days of doing this a few times a day for them to figure out this is where water is ) because water dishes can make horrible messes and even drown chicks. Water bottles generally only release water when the chicken pecks at the bottle, keeps cages clean, doesn't allow anyone to drown, and are much easier to clean than water dishes. I would keep a dish in the cage while chicks were learning what a water bottle was, but since the dish also tended to become buried in dirt or litter quite quickly, the water bottle also allows the owner to keep chicks happily hydrated without fear that they will bury their water.

After graduating from the aquarium ( this usually means "outgrowing" ), I like to put my chickens in jumbo-sized dog cages so that they have room to move around, as well as room for food dishes and water bottles. I would have a pen for my chickens outside, but at the moment I do not own the house I live in and thus cannot make such changes to the yard, so my chickens stay inside with me and occasionally go outside on leashes ( we also have a family of hawks and coyotes, so I'm fairly content with them being inside ).

I have usually filled my enclosures with fresh dirt from the backyard, but my most recent batch of chicks I have been using kitty litter pellets ( they're plastic pellets, and though I don't condone plastic pellets, it's doing a better job than the dirt ), and my first batch of chicks I used white aquarium sand. I'm torn whether the pellets or aquarium sand have been my favourite litter - I'm definitely not fond of the upkeep the dirt takes, but it's quite available and doesn't cost anything.

Alternative litter can be torn up newsprint, paper towels, wood shavings ( I have heard wonderful things about pine, and not-so-great about cedar or other shavings ), and hay. Avoid straw, as it can puncture the chick or even harm their eyes, and slick surfaces such as the inside of a cardboard box or plain newsprint. If using newspaper, mist it first and let it air dry in order to be a little rougher so that the chicks have something to grip - it can lead to health problems later in life if their legs are stressed too much on slick surfaces. I sometimes used cloth towels for bedding , but not often since they need to be washed often in that case - I mainly use cloth towels when tending to an injured chick that I need to place in isolation.

Litter Training

At this age you can also litter-train your chick! Chickens have what is called a "cloaca" - this is a single posterior opening for faeces, urine, and reproduction. Due to the combination of faecal matter and urine, chickens do not urinate they only defecate. The "urine" is turned into what is called "uric acid", and is the slightly moist, white part that is generally accumulated at one end of a chicken dropping.

As young chicks, chickens generally defecate once every fifteen minutes. As they age, this time span becomes longer - I've noticed that Bo doesn't tend to defecate but every few hours or so. If you want to train your chick to use a litter box ( or toilet, or trash can, or whatever you want them to use ) you will time between defecation, and try to place your chick in the litter area at about the time it defecates. Upon defecation, give it a command word ( my command word is "Poop!" because it is quick and easy to say, and comes to mind quickly - my X-house mate used the command "Hurry up!" for her dog ), then say the word when it defecates. Soon, you can set it in the litter area just a little while before it would normally defecate and give it the command word, and it should defecate on command. After that, you will gradually develop a habit and the chicken will seek out the litter area to keep defecation in that area only.

It is possible to teach an older chicken in this manner as well. Since chickens are creatures of GREAT habit, it is actually surprisingly easy to do. I have not perfected this yet, though, since I have been juggling twenty-seven chickens, trying to re-home most of them, keep the others clean and happy, etc.

Cheep, Sweep, Chirrup, Trill, Chortle, Koo-koo-koo

There are many different sounds your chick will make, and it is important to have a basic understanding of each one so you know the emotional state of your chick and how to respond. The most common sound you'll hear is "Cheep cheep cheep" as your chick explores its new surroundings, and makes certain the other chicks are with it and everyone knows where everyone else is. In places like feed stores, you might also hear chicks going "CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP!!" at a much louder, much more alarming pitch. This type of cheeping is generally something that should be tended to immediately - they're out of water, out of food, too hot, too cold, or somehow unhappy. The first few days after you take home your chick, except to hear this sound. A lot. Expect to learn what your chick needs just by listening and responding to it.

HOWEVER, when you first put your chicks down to sleep, they will CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP wondering where their mother is, and at this point it is okay to ignore them so long as you are certain they are warm, but not too hot, covered, and safe. They should stop screaming between ten and twenty minutes. Expect them to cry periodically throughout the night. What I tend to do is put them to bed about an hour before I go to bed. Check them in ten minutes - check temperature, see if anyone is panting and hot, or if anyone is huddled and cold. Check again in twenty minutes, then thirty, then an hour. After checking that last time, if no one is too hot or too cold, I go to sleep. With my most recent batch I woke up a few times to someone screaming - turns out they wandered away from the rest of the brood and were looking to be reunited. After a few nights of this, and knowing that they're perfectly safe I just put a pillow over the tank and let them sort it out. They've been perfectly fine with no one waking up in the middle of the night after about three or four days.

Your chick will tell you if it is too hot or too cold - the recommended "90-95*F, lowering about 5* a week after the first three weeks" may not be what your chick wants. If they huddle and cry, they are too cold. If they pant, or lay sprawled out on the ground, they are too hot ( I have not heard any of my chickens cry if they are too hot - but almost always hear them cry when they are too cold ). I have found that accelerating the cool-down process actually helps them grow in their adult feathers more quickly and you barely even notice their "ugly as sin" phase. I do NOT force my chicks to be colder than they're comfortable with - I simply encourage them to spend more time away from their heat source, and diminish the heat source a little quicker than what is recommended - but if ANY of my chicks are suffering from this, I allow them to develop at their own pace.

Happy sounds include a "schoo-schoo-schoo" or "twee-twee-twee" sound when they are nestled up with you or another chicken. This whistling call is also how they say "good night" - you'll hear this often after you cover their cage with a blanket, and everyone has settled down for the night. Suddenly there is a symphony of quiet little "kwee-kwee-kwee" or "schoo-schoo-schoo" depending on the individual singing as they nod off and fall asleep. Not all chickens do this, so don't be alarmed if yours is silent.

I have found with some of my chickens, especially the more cuddly of them, to make a trill when they are excited. My first chick, Agatha, would trill when I held her. She would snuggle up on my shoulder right next to my head and she would "trill-trill-trill" or she would just "triiiiiiilll~". It was usually soft and sweet, but sometimes I would hold her and she would go "trill!" and I would say back, "Trill!" and our trills ( well, her trill and me just SAYING "trill" ) would become louder and more intense until we were both screaming at each other. You could tell she had a ball because she would put her all into it, her whole body expanding and contracting as she took deep breaths and shouted back "TRIILL TRILL TRIIEEEEEIILLL!!" I can't say I know for certain what a trill actually means, but in my experience it's either a content or excited noise - both of which are fairly happy. I have OCCASIONALLY heard a trill used indignantly, but it's usually short and to the point ( usually I hear it when someone accidentally steps on someone ).

One of my favourite sounds to hear a chicken make is a "chortle". Both young chicks and adult chickens will chortle, and it almost sounds like they say "BWA-HA-HA-HA!!" I'm not too sure what a chortle means, but it seems to be an excited sound like a human laugh.

Two sounds that are very similar yet mean very different things are a long, growling-like sound. A lower pitched growl can be caution. Something along the lines of "I don't know you" or "I'm not comfortable with that's going on." A high growl can be curiosity and inquisition. "Oh~ what's that?" or "That feels good!"

Sometimes you will hear a quick, sharp, indignant "PEEP!" This usually means that one of the other chicks tripped on a chick, stepped on them, pushed them, or pecked them unexpectedly. It's a denotion of surprise, but doesn't generally mean anything of too much importance. I have only paid any particular attention to this sound when one of my Australorps was pulling out all the feathers on the backs of my Ameraucanas. My Ameraucanas would go "CHEEP!" when they were pecked, and if I heard an intermittent "CHEEP!" and a few moments later "CHEEP!" and again, I would know that the Australorp was at it again. I solved the feather-plucking problem by selling one Australorp, and when the other picked up the habit, I dumped her in the cage with the larger chicks. She was picked on for a couple days, but she was no longer the largest chick in the cage, and no one is eating anyone else's feathers anymore.

Day Two and Beyond...

Day one is probably the most stressful day - you're just learning all of your new chicks sounds and mannerisms, hoping that they figure out how to eat and drink, and worrying all night about every sound they make while trying to sleep. Day two is exciting because you're starting to figure out everyone's individual personalities, the hardest day is over, and everyone survived the night - and at this point, you're pretty sure if they made it one night, they'll make it another.

I would say there's a good three to four day adjustment period to figuring out your chicks. The sounds they make, what and how they eat, how often you should refill their water, etc. I try to clean my chickens cages about once a week, and their water dish once a day. I refill their water whenever I notice that it is empty or dirty, and give them new food whenever their dish is empty and there's no obvious signs of food on the ground ( beware! Chicks like to bury their food, so sometimes just churning the litter a little bit will uncover a vast stockpile of food, but don't let them eat it if it has become moist ).

After day one, your chicks start to know you as where food comes from, warmth, and love. I have had success setting my chicks down at about a week of age and having them follow me when I walk away. The first thing to change about your chick is their wings. Little wing feathers will start to poke out of their tiny arms after just a few days, then as the tips of the wings are just about starting to reach their hind end, tail feathers will begin to develop. After that you'll start to get some feathers on the backs of their shoulders, then usually two lines on either side of their breast of new feathers, and a line right down the middle of their back. Usually the last place to grow feathers is the area under the wings and their faces - I would guess the under-wing area is the very last, but it has always been pretty close to the face in last place from my experience. As your chicken grows and matures, there will be less and less feathers and fuzz covering the face - but their heads should not be entirely bald unless their breed specifies such.

As the chick grows, you will start to notice differences between males and females even before they start laying and crowing. Here is a photo of pair of Japanese chicks that I had. Male is on the left, female on the right:

This photo was taken when the pair was probably only about a month old. Notice that the male has larger and redder wattles and comb. The female has much smaller wattles and comb, that are a pinkish colour. In fact, pullets ( female chickens that have not started laying yet ) will have almost non-existent wattles and comb that are a light pink colour until they start laying, in which their wattles and comb will seem to "suddenly" appear. SOME females will develop at a similar rate as males, but this is extremely rare.

Most people will tell you that you can't tell the gender of a chicken "until they either start crowing or laying," and most people who are experienced at sexing a chicken will tell you that after day one, it is impossible to sex a chicken until they start showing "secondary sex-related characteristics" such as wattle and comb growth and colour. If you are uncertain of a chicken's sex then you may just have to wait the full five to seven months it takes for a chicken to fully mature ( some breeds mature as quickly as four months ) and either start laying or crowing, as they say.

Similarly, above is a photo of a mature and immature male chicken - the one in back is Bo and the one in front is Socrates. This photo was taken when they were about six months of age. The mature male will have a bright red face, while the immature male will have a pink face ( albeit darker than the female ) most noticeably. Also note that Socrates has a little more feathering on his face, his comb and wattles are smaller than Bo's, his feathers aren't as shiny, he has no sickle feathers ( the large, long arching tail feathers ), his neck feathers aren't as pointy or full as Bo's, and his saddle feathers ( feathers on the posterior end of his back ) are barely noticeable at all. Above all, Socrates looks pretty mangy.

At about four or five months your chickens voice will start to change. It will become hoarse and rhaspy, while they still try to cheep like a chick but start to cluck like a chicken. I think I find this to be the most endearing stage in a chick's journey to growing up. This is also the age that your chickens MAY start crowing if they are boys. I have only heard my Socrates DEFINITIVELY crow today, and it was a weak, experimental, quiet, gurgly crow - and he's nearly eight months old! Young crowers can sound like they're being strangled, or sound like a hoarse, grating scream. Some cockerels ( young males ) actually get it right their first time, but this is rare - usually a cockerel has to experiment long before he can figure out what he's actually doing.

Isolating an Injured or Sick Chick

I think this has to be a very important thing to mention because I've had many chicks that have needed isolation and only my experience in the veterinary field prepared me for this one. First and foremost, find a good cage for isolation ( I call them "Iso Chambers" after the isolation area in my vet clinic that I worked at ). A good iso chamber is a cage that's just big enough for your chick to stand up, walk around, and flap its wings, but not big enough to give ample running or romping space. If a chick is injured, I generally choose another chick that might be a little younger, or at least smaller, and medium to low energy to be in the cage with the injured chick because chickens don't do very well when isolated. If a chick is ill, however, it's best to isolate it all together.

When introducing new chickens to an existing flock it's a good idea to keep them isolated for MINIMUM of four weeks - this is about the amount of time it would take for most illnesses to run their course and flee out of the body. When I brought home a silkie with coccidia from the local feed store, it did not occur to me to isolate the chick because I was optimistic that the feed store would be a proper place to buy healthy chicks. I DID put it in the isolation chamber I had for another chick whose toe went necrotic at only a few days old, and after a few weeks the toe had finally fallen off. I put this chick in an isolation chamber with a few tiny ones to keep it company just while its toe healed over. I put the new silkie in this cage just so that it could be accepted by a few of the chicks before being introduced to the whole flock - being accepted by even one other bird makes introductions a whole lot easier for a new member.

Unfortunately, I was swapping out chicks so that no one would become estranged from the main flock, and the disease spread. When the disease spread, I put all of the chicks in one cage and treated them ALL, making certain to clean the now-unused iso chamber with bleach then vinegar ( I could only find evidence that vinegar killed coccidia - almost nothing else did ) so that the iso chamber could still be a safe place for any new recruits. Out of everyone, and a very, very deadly disease I only lost three chicks to coccidia - I was congratulated by my local vets for a very lucky fight against the disease.

I also had a chick that was put outside ( one of my house mates chicks out of the second brood I helped raise ) attacked by an opossum, her toe ripped open with the claw completely disjointed from the rest of the toe. I made a daily routine of pouring hydrogen peroxide over the wound for the first week, and then smearing triple antibiotic ointment over it, and lastly covering the toe with gauze and taping it with medical tape. I changed the bandages once a day ( I had limited supplies, otherwise I would have done it twice a day ), and after the first week eliminated the hydrogen peroxide, but kept the rest. Her toe healed miraculously fine ( didn't even lose the end of it, which the vets and I agreed would probably go necrotic and fall off ).

Lastly, I had a chicken slit his own throat open. I was in my room and heard him crow then heard "snap-gurgle". I was fairly certain he had broken his neck, but one house mate who was a field medic and my own veterinary skills saved his life after a few hours of trying to stabilize him. Since his was a very, very sensitive wound, for the first few days I wrapped him in a towel that I stuffed in a box, put a blanket over the box and tucked the blanket under the box, then put a pillow over top ( I did not want him moving, let alone escaping ). I changed the bandages every day and checked on him every couple of hours, helping him to eat and drink until I saw progress in his wound healing. Once I saw progress in his wound healing, I put him in the iso chamber where he could move around a little bit, and he eventually healed back to full health.

Here's Horus, showing off his very silly bandage job - the wound was RIGHT between the wattles, so it was VERY hard to bandage perfectly right, so I ended up taping it to the comb to keep the bandage in place:

Other Chick-Related Information

First and foremost, sleeping. Chicks are babies, babies sleep. This is something I had to figure out myself because after losing several chicks, I was really afraid that when they stopped moving they were dead. I spent weeks with Bo and Socrates' brood poking them all when they'd fall asleep just to make sure they were alive. Chicks will go through bouts of energy, then crash. Even if you have a brood of twenty chicks, sometimes you'll walk in and they will all be sprawled out over each other, collapsed, not moving at all, but I guarantee, make a noise or poke one, and one will "Peep peep?" then others will join in.

Your chick WILL eat rocks! This is okay - they need rocks to digest food. Since chickens don't chew, they eat rocks and grit so that their crop can appropriately break down food before it enters the stomach where it will be properly digested.

Speaking of the crop, the crop is a pre-digestion organ that you can feel right on their breast. The first time I felt a crop, I thought it was a tumour! Even more frightening, when a crop is particularly full, you can SEE the food inside it. Your chickens crop should be full at least most of the time - a gentle palpitation of the chest should find a relatively large "lump" that is your chickens crop. If you don't feel anything, feed your chicken!

Dust bathing was another thing that scared me when I first saw it. The first time I saw dust bathing, I was watching Bo, Socrates, Cassiopeia, and Jules. When I looked up two or three were on the ground, flailing and seizing. Then one collapsed and also started seizing - I thought they had eaten something poisonous and were having seizures! But as I watched, it dawned on me that they would sit up, look around, then flop over on their sides, fluff up, and start flailing again. They had nothing to throw around on top of them, but it dawned on me that they were simply trying to dust bathe... with naught but newspaper on the bottom of their cage.

Regular old grooming can look a little alarming to the untrained chicken owner, too. The chicken raises some feathers just above its tail, and starts nibbling at something and rubbing its head against its backside ( NOT its cloaca - on the top of its back ). There is an oil gland on the top of the tail, and a little fleshy tube that comes out of the gland. The chicken uses its beak to squeeze and tug on the tube in a similar way as someone might milk a cow to encourage oil flow. The chicken may then rub its face on the gland. The chicken will collect oil on its beak and then pull some feathers through its beak - distributing oil over its body. This oil helps them keep pests away, and stay somewhat waterproof. The oil gland CAN feel like a "lump" on the end of their tail, and it can even be expressed like a pimple. I would not advise doing this unless you're suspicious your chickens oil gland is infected, or somehow blocked.

Sneezing, head-shaking, coughing, wheezing, favouring a leg or wing, etc. are all things you should pay attention to. The occasional sneeze, cough, or head-shake is nothing to worry about, but excessive amounts of sneezing, coughing, or head-shaking should be paid close attention to. These are all signs your chick might be sick or injured. If sick or injured, your chick should be isolated from other chicks ( I still like to use glass tanks and set them near other tanks of chicks so they still have SOME interaction ). A lot of the time, a chick will heal all on their own - they are pretty darn resilient, especially if you love on them. If a chick wants to be held while sick or injured, I usually use a towel that I can wash afterwards, wrap them up, and carry them with me ( I like to let their head poke out so they can see what's going on and know I'm there ), but don't move them around too much. If a chick is insisting to be with me while sick or injured, I will usually wrap it and find something to do on my computer so that I am not moving around too much, and let them snooze in my lap. The other thing I will sometimes do if I NEED to go somewhere, but also want to keep an eye on my chick is wrap my scarf around my neck and make a little basket for my chicks to cradle next to my neck in. I would NOT recommend using the scarf method unless you know exactly what you are doing.

As your chick grows, it will develop little pieces of chick down still attached to the ends of new feathers - it is okay to pick these off. Mother hen would usually groom these off, and eventually the chick will groom them off, themselves. I usually pick a little bit here and there, now and then, just so that my chicks don't become irritated with the activity, and it helps them look quite a lot nicer and a whole lot less mangy.

I think that's about it. Any questions, comments, concerns, or requests on what I should write about in the future, please Email me or leave me a comment ( I will probably respond to Emails quicker ).