Handling chickens is an important part of being a backyard chicken enthusiast. It’s very important to understand how to pick up and handle your chickens safely, both for the benefit of the bird and for yourself.
First and foremost, you need to know how to handle baby chicks.
Is there anything cuter than a baby chicken? Of course you want to pick them up! But they are fragile little beings, and they can also carry germs that can be harmful to humans. By understanding this, and learning how to safely handle chicks, you can raise your chickens to have a good bond with their human family and keep yourself healthy at the same time.
How to Pick Up Baby Chicks
Baby chicks are usually only a few days old when you welcome them to your backyard. They are extremely fragile at this point, and their bones and organs can easily be damaged.
- Get your chicks used to the voices of their human family before attempting to pick them up. Use a soft voice and talk to them for the first day or two.
- Slowly, gently, stroke the chick on its back or head.
- Put your hand in the brooder, palm up, and let the chick inspect your fingers and hop onto your hand if it is so inclined (some chick feed in your palm may offer encouragement here). Continue chatting softly so the chick gets used to the sound of your voice.
- When the chick is comfortable in your hand, gently lift it out of the brooder. Sit with it and hold it close – gently but firmly encircle the body with your hand, cradling the belly and holding your other hand over the back.
- Never hold a chick in an open palm – they will hop and flutter and a serious fall (with serious consequences) could occur.
- Minimize the time outside the brooder. Chicks are newborn babies – they tire quickly and get cold quickly too. Loud peeping is a sure sign the chick has had enough.
- Wash your hands after returning your chick to its brooder.
Reasons to Not Handle Chicks
As cute as they are, baby chicks (as well as adult chickens) can carry harmful germs like Salmonella. Most Salmonella infections in humans occur after handling poultry. This can cause fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea in humans, and it may even result in hospitalization. Most chickens carrying Salmonella will display no sign of it – so you need to treat every chicken as if it does for the safety of yourself and your family.
As such, every human family member needs to learn how to handle chickens (and chicks) and follow some basic guidelines. Teach your kids how to handle chicks from the outset as well.
Teaching Kids to Handle Baby Chicks
- CHILDREN MUST ALWAYS BE SUPERVISED WHILE HANDLING CHICKS AND CHICKENS. Kids under the age of 5, in particular, must be supervised closely, if they are allowed to handle chicks at all. Younger kids are better at gently patting the chick in the brooder (under supervision) as they can too easily accidentally drop, squeeze, or step on a chick.
- Wash Hands both before and after handling chicks. This is for the well-being of both human and bird. Use plenty of soap and teach kids (and yourself!) to wash hands immediately after handling chickens.
- Never squeeze, drop, or hold tightly! Kids need to understand how fragile these little friends are and that they are tiny babies.
- Keep them close to their warmed brooder and limit holding them to a very short time.
- Have the child sit on the ground with a cloth or towel over their lap – this minimizes the distance in case of a fall.
- Follow the other guidelines described above.
- Keep faces (and kisses) away from the chicken. A snuggle is fine if the hen is amenable but keep the human mouth away from birds – especially their beak.
- Teach kids to never put hands or fingers near their own eyes or mouth until after washing their hands.
Keep chickens outside. If you do have a favorite chicken that is more pet and that comes in for a snuggle, designate a specific contained area, away from the kitchen or dining areas. Clean well after the bird has been returned to her coop mates.
- Only take one chick from the brooder at a time – this makes the whole experience easier to handle.
- Only handle chicks in an enclosed room or other space.
- Never handle chicks near a family pet (especially cats and dogs), or in an area they can escape from.
Unlike goslings and ducklings, chicks won’t imprint on a human, but if you can get them accustomed to being handled from hatching, they will enjoy the time with you and be much friendlier in adulthood.