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.

Body

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.

Mind

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.

Soul

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.

Bomb-Proofing

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!

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