Handling The Chicks

I’ve been asked, “how much do you handle the chicks?” Understandably, when the fluffy adorable little balls arrive, the first thought is, cuddle. I don’t. I handle the chicks only enough to care for them. I don’t enclose them in my hands. I don’t reach down into the pile of chicks and scoop one up. I don’t do this because it scares them. Pick up a chick and you will feel the heart beating fast from fear. Yes, the chicks will eventually get used to the grabbing and holding. But, getting there puts them through a lot of stress. You do not have to handle your chicks in order to have friendly hens when they are full-grown. Soon after the Gems arrived, the older hens, in the little barn, came down with a severe respiratory disease. To keep the chicks safe I practiced biosecurity. I wore a different overshirt in their barn, and changed my shoes between flocks. I didn’t handle the chicks. And yet, today they mill about underfoot, run up to me with speed when I call, and I can take them to schools and nursing homes, with the surety that each one will sit calmly and sweetly on my lap while unfamiliar hands pet them.

In contrast to the good behavior of the Gems was what happened to a group of chicks raised on a farm and used in an educational program. They were handled daily by children. At the end of the season the farmer gave the pullets to myself and a few other backyard chicken keepers that he knew. Instead of being acclimatized to people, they wanted nothing to do with us. Every one of those chickens had behavior problems. Now, it’s likely that if you have a few chicks and are handling them gently (it’s unlikely that every one of those children at the farm did) that your chicks won’t have issues. Still, I don’t pick up my chicks just for fun.

My goal with chicks, with all animals, really, is for them to come to me. To do this, I pay attention to the animals’ reactions and needs. The first thing that I noticed was that the chicks all scurried into corners when I opened the barn door. Of course a door swinging open towards them, and sudden bright light and a big human looming over them, was terrifying. Now, as I approach the coop, I call out, Hello Chickees! Then I open the door. The chicks, instead of turning tail, look up, and if it’s nap time, don’t even bother getting up. I’ve tried opening the door without announcing my presence, thinking that perhaps they’re simply used to it by now, but without my hello, they scramble in fear.

Once inside the coop, I do not scoop down and pick up a chick. If I did, this would happen, a mass of worried chicks.

scared chicks

When you have 26 chicks in a brooder, the chicks move in waves of motion and sleeping. They are a flock that reacts as a whole. Remove one, and all panic.

But, this doesn’t mean that I ignore the chicks or cautiously avoid them. I have a stool in the Little Barn, next to the brooder. I sit. I talk quietly to the chicks. In this photo you can see how comfortable the chicks are with me in their presence. They’re going about their business. They’re not huddled into a terrified mass.

sitting near brooder

I’m eyed with calm, friendly curiosity.


Once the chicks are moved into the coop, there will be room for me to sit amongst them. I have no doubt that some will want to sit in my lap.

I’m not saying here that you shouldn’t handle your chicks. Your situation might be different than mine. If you have only three chicks in a small brooder, and you visit them all day long, then the dynamic is different. If you have a pen that you sit in with your chicks, that changes the interaction. Some chicks might like being picked up. If a chick stands still and lets you scoop her up, then all is fine. Chicks will let you know loud and clear when they are stressed. You might be happy holding the fluffy ones, but are they happy with you? All you have to do to know the answer is to not be blinded by their cuteness, but to pay attention. They’ll tell you the right thing to do.


  1. I ADORED my first hatch of chicks. Spent hours with them on the floor, outside, etc. They would come when I called. Most all love me still but one rooster. He is so mean. I think I over loved him, & now he doesn’t have boundaries as he normally would. But they were just too cute! I dont coddle them now like I did then. And it seems to make a good social chicken.

  2. Great information Terry. Haven’t found this subject anywhere else. Thanks for helping……

  3. Hi Terry!
    My chicks I purchased from the co-op, unfortunately, are quite fearful of hands. They are left in tubs at the entrance of the store, and I can imagine kids coming in and trying to grab them. Lesson learned.

    The chicks I hatched are totally different. They did not know at first that hands were something to fear, and I realize that I have to be very careful to not teach them that very thing. I’ve goofed up a bit, but am still very aware.

    Now, interestingly, the co-op chicks stay very close to me when I take them outside in the clover patch. They almost cuddle down in my shadow. The hatched chicks, however, wander all over the place and I have to herd them in, as the hawk watches them as well.

  4. Well said! Being there in a calm, consistent manner creates a very different energy and outcome then inserting oneself in the mix.

  5. With our first and second sets of chicks, my daughter handled them almost daily. As adult hens, they definitely don’t like much handling. With the chicks we got last summer, my daughter just sat amongst the them everyday and let them choose when to come to her. These have become the most friendly and easy to handle hens ever! When she sits in her coop now, she will always have one or two fly up and sit on her lap (or her shoulder, or her back if she dares to bend over!!!) She learned well, and says with her future chicks, she will let them decide!

  6. Do you ever hold your hand low for them to come and explore without you touching them? This is terrific and useful information.

    • Yes, I do, but it hurts my back, so I don’t do it much :) Soon enough, I’ll be able to sit outside amongst them. Plenty of time for handling.

  7. I’ve had raised a number of ducks and chicks, and I always, always play with them from the get-go. If you are gentle and consistent, (and don’t just swoop suddenly in and grab one into the air!) it only takes them a few minutes before they are hopping willingly into your hands to be picked up and held. They are programed to want to recognize a ‘mother’ and they are perfectly willing for that mother to be you. Mine wanted nothing more than to be held; they would instantly just relax into my hands and go to sleep. While babies, they would perch on the spine of the book I was reading and chat to me. They would cuddle under my chin. When I put them on the floor or outside on the grass, they followed me around and trusted me to watch out for their safety, and watched to see how I found them treats to eat. They would come running whenever they heard my voice. Now, as grown hens, the ones I have now are snuggle-bunnies. They LOVE to sit on my lap (my lap is their favorite place, and they love to stretch out and sunbathe on me. I can pick them up with one hand, and hold them however I want, and they completely trust me not to hurt or drop them. When I pick them up, they immediately snuggle in against my chest and close their eyes and sigh in complete happiness while I ruffle their feathers. Any medical treatment they require is a snap because all I have to do is hold them and talk to them and they’ll let me do anything that needs to be done. I’ve never had such sweet, adoring pets – not even a cat or dog. I would never, never raise chicks any other way.

    • Your experience sounds lovely, but it’s not appropriate for many situations. My brooder is in the coop, and it’s been an especially cold spring. It’s better for the chicks to be kept a consistent and warm temp, than for me to take them out and handle them. In a couple of weeks, it will warm up, they’ll be bigger, and they’ll be moved into the area where the old girls are and I’ll be able to handle them more. Also, as much as I like my hens, I’ve no interest in snuggling with them. I’m very happy to watch them come and go. I like their company when I garden. I want them friendly and secure so that I can handle them. I want them calm when they greet visitors. They’re all of that. And you’re right, all it takes is calm and consistent handling.

  8. This all is very helpful. I have been doing this all wrong! I hope it’s not too late as they are now 5 weeks old. I am in and out of their “space” (my master bathroom…) numerous times during the day to add food, clean water, and care for a chick that has needed “medical attention” from day one. They are all VERY stressed when I reach into their box – fleeing, screeching, etc. I’ve been worried that they are going to injure themselves. I was chirping and talking softly to them but only after I picked one up. They are Bantam Araucana’s and I’ve been so concerned about their fearful behavior that I did a search online about the temperment of Araucana’s and was wondering if I made a mistake getting them. Clearly the mistake has been my approach!
    I am going to do what you suggest Terry – talk softly, reach in slowly and gently only when necessary and see if that changes things. This is only my second batch of chicks and it certainly is an ongoing learning process.

  9. I see you have a little roost in with the chicks. Hoping you will post more on that. Are they anchored or just sitting on the blocks. Did you put them in right away or wait a few weeks. Love all the photos you are posting.

  10. That’s why your “The Master” Terry! Everything I know I learned from you! I am one happy chicken mom!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing that…you helped me see I did it the right way a year ago when I got my girls. I would go in and sit by their brooder box and talk ..but I would also sing softly to them. They never complained about my singing talent (or lack of it). Smile

  12. Thanks so much for sharing. I noticed the little chicks are huddled together on the little roosting bar. They are amazing to watch. ;)