Polite Hens

Most of the animals that I live with do not exactly have mellow temperaments. Candy is imperial. The Speckled Sussex hens are loopy. The goats thrive on mischief. Lily is a genius dog who is on the lookout for alien invasions and squirrel armies (perhaps the same thing?) And yet, I want the animals that I share my life with to be polite. Despite the potential for chaos, this is not an unattainable goal. It takes me knowing what I want and communicating that consistently. This requires time and training. But mostly it takes an attitude of calm stewardship.

When I posted about how to hold a hen, I heard from many readers about how they embrace their chickens. I also heard about hens that cannot contain their enthusiasm and leap onto shoulders, which makes for a hilarious story, but not one that I would want to have happen more than once. Personally, I don’t want  a five-pound hen (who has likely just stepped in manure) flapping her ungainly self at me in an attempt to roost up on top of my head. Even if I found this acceptable, I wouldn’t want this to happen to a guest or a child.To ensure that your hens greet you and your friends politely, let them know that good things happen on the ground, at your feet, not near your face. Feed them treats tossed away from you. Do not feed them from your hands when they get pushy and peck.

Sometimes, though, it’s fun to have a hen on your shoulder. It certainly makes for a funny photo. Clearly, these women and their chickens are familiar friends. The birds look quite calm and polite. (Do you think it a family photo with rooster, hen and feathering-out chick?)

I’m sure that these ladies, with their long hair pinned up into buns, wouldn’t let one of their chickens leap up onto their shoulders. Can you imagine what a tangled scene that would be!


  1. Love the pic and completely agree with everything you wrote :)

  2. I was inside the temp coop tying shade cloth during the heat wave here when ONE, TWO, all of a sudden I had a hen on each shoulder. Being quite new to chickens I wasn’t sure how I should react. I have parrots and they are NOT allowed on the shoulder. NEVER allowed access to human eyes, either. It is proper to let them perch on the forarm at waist height, no higher. So here I was with two chickens on my shoulders, and I noticed another one eyeing my head. Although the moment was fun, I did have the sense to bend over and gently push them off. After the shade cloth was finished, of course clothing went into the washing machine and I scrubbed down in the shower, in case their nails scratched through my shirt.

    • A person who can keep parrots well-behaved can certainly do the same with chickens :) Very different intellects, though!

      • You would think! I find the chickens much harder to train. I try to feed a treat in my hand and they maul and bite it. Ouch! When first studying parrot behaviour, an experienced keeper emphasized to me that parrots are wild animals. Unlike chickens they have NOT been domesticated. OK, chickens are domesticated, so what? They are giving me a hard time! Things will be different when they are in the larger run. How, I have no idea, but I’m sure it won’t be easier. :) I watch your videos. They are excellent. Your calm assertiveness is something I try to emulate.

    • Because I take chickens on school visits, I’m careful not to feed them out of hand. So far, I’ve never had a hen peck at a child (and each student gets to pet the hen at the end of the program.) But, you’re right, it is easier to get a hen to come close if you have food in hand!

  3. Why would a hen want to jump on a person, is it like with parrots and that the higher they are the more they think they are in control ? Or is it because they think we are nice perch for them to sit on ?

    • It depends on the chicken! All chickens like to be up high, and a person’s shoulder is about as high as a hen can get, and probably the highest thing in their yard. Some chickens also see the shoulder as the nearest thing to the source of food. They’re being pushy and demanding. A few want to assert their claim to friendship with the bearer of all good things.

  4. If I’m feeding the girls from my hand and they begin to become over excited and peck me, I just close the hand with the treats in it. They are confused and cannot understand where the treats have gone but they do calm down immediately. As soon as they are calm, I open my hand again. This takes a while to learn as my hens are not too bright in the brains department, but they have learnt not to start a scrap when I’m hand feeding them or the heavenly treats disappear! They have relapses and forget but mostly, they are well behaved :o)

  5. Nice post! I love your tip to “let them know that good things happen on the ground”. Very sound advice! I’m new here and am loving your site. It’s very informative and your writing style is a good enjoyable read.
    Although I did get a little laugh with you saying these women wouldn’t let the chickens leap onto their shoulders considering the woman on the left has the chicken sitting up on her shoulder. But I suppose calmly sitting is different than leaping up!
    And I also have to wonder if the woman on the right isn’t re-fixing her hair after such a “tangled scene” transpired ;)