Like us, your chickens can have bad days too. They can get angry, stressed, and even unhappy. It can be difficult to figure out your chicken’s mood since they cannot communicate with the same language that we use. However, chickens display several signs that can help you figure out what is going on with them. We also have a few tips to help you understand your chicken better and what you can do to help your chicken.
Is Your Chicken Stressed or Unhappy?
Knowing the common signs for stress and unhappiness in your chickens and the main causes of stress is one of the best ways to be a more attentive chicken owner.
- Pay attention to your chicken’s sounds! Just like you may raise your voice when you are stressed about a situation, chickens also have alarm sounds to threaten other chickens, especially when chasing them away. These sounds may also be excessive and sound like repetitive chirps or screaming.
- Feather Picking:
- Feather picking occurs when chickens pluck out their feathers. It can happen due to both medical or behavioral reasons, so be sure to consult a trusted avian/poultry veterinarian to rule out any medical concerns. The many reasons for this fairly common behavior include dietary issues (such as lack of methionine), the presence of an open wound or red spot, stress, boredom, or even sleep deprivation.
- Loss of Appetite:
- Just like you might not feel as hungry when dealing with an issue that makes you worried, your backyard chicken also does the same. If your chicken who usually has a healthy appetite begins to have problems with their appetite, it could be a sign of stress.
- Repetitive Behaviors:
- Examples of this type of behavior, which are also known as stereotypical behaviors, include packing, constant rocking back and forth, head swinging or toe-taping.
- If your chicken is usually social and happy when handled but suddenly starts to act withdrawn, it can indicate that something is causing your chicken to be stressed. It might even be something as simple as a drastic change in the appearance of your chicken’s handler. So, pay close attention to your chicken and if you notice sudden fearfulness, try to identify what might be triggering it.
- Aggressive behavior in chickens is commonly due to previous and repeated experiences with trauma. Some aggressive behaviors include biting, lunging, screaming, and even hissing. A chicken showing aggressive behavior might spend a lot of their time alone and appear to be tense. You may also notice issues with biting or attacking with their wings or their full-body during interactions with other chickens or owners. In chickens especially, aggression can often occur when they try to establish their social hierarchy through pecking order (yes it really is a thing!). Hereditary factors can also play a role as some breed of gamefowl are either naturally or are bred to be more aggressive than others.
What Can You Do?
So let’s say that your chicken is stressed and you want to help to minimize the stress. What can you do?
- Remove the stressor!
- If you have already figured out what exactly is making your chicken stressed, we would recommend that you remove it and see if that helps.
- Don’t shout at your chicken:
- Stressed chickens may often exhibit behaviors, like screaming, which may make you want to yell back at them. Our recommendation… don’t get into a screaming match with your chicken! For one, it might actually scare them or reinforce the idea that their excessive vocalization will always get your attention.
- Provide adequate stimulation and appropriate toys:
- Find ways to challenge your chicken with a new toy to play with or a radio station to listen to. You can even extend their out-of-cage playtime with other chickens that are already familiar to them.
- Routine, Routine, Routine!
- With stressed chickens and even non-stressed chickens, maintaining a proper routine of socialization, feeding, and cleaning times is very important. A healthy and structured routine can help your chicken feel calmer and more comfortable with their environment.
- Contact a trusted avian veterinarian
- Several of the behaviors previously-mentioned are signs that you can expect to see in a stressed chicken. However, some are also signs that you can expect to see if your chicken is sick and needs medical attention. If you suspect illness, consult your veterinarian for professional advice so they can make the best recommendations for you and your chicken.
We hope that our tips can help you to learn more about your chicken’s behaviors. But remember, YOU are the owner and the BEST person to figure out how your chicken is feeling. Your chicken may not always be able to communicate with you but by paying careful attention to your chicken’s normal behaviors, you are more likely to notice when they are acting in a way that is not typical for them.
There is so much more information out there about how stress affects poultry and in future articles, we will delve more into how hereditary factors play a role in chicken aggression as well as behavior issues in other poultry like psittacines.