Who doesn’t want a flock of happy chickens that come running when you approach them? Though some people prioritize traits such as egg production, cold hardiness, outward appearances if raising for show, chicken size, or growth speed, for those of us backyard flock keepers, having friendly chickens as our pets is a big reason we own chickens in the first place. How do we guarantee the ones we put in our backyard will be friendly? Well, as with most pets, how the owner treats their flock is just as important in determining chickens’ temperament as choosing the right breed.
This said, a good background in best practices for raising a friendly flock will certainly go a long way.
Tips for rearing a friendly chicken:
1) In the early days when you first bring the chicks home, talk to them gently using a soft voice, but resist the urge to pick them up. Let the chicks get used to their new life and recover from the trip to your house. Sprinkling some chick feed onto your hand can help encourage them. Talk to them so they get used to your voice.
Hands-on time with your chicks should be limited to several short sessions of just a few minutes each, several times a day. Chicks are babies and spend lots of time sleeping. They get tired quickly and also get cold.
2) The best way to tame your chickens when they are a bit older, and to build up trust is again to offer your chickens their favorite treat in your hand. This is also used in taming aggressive roosters. It’s best to get them used to eating out your hand first and then start to stroke them with slow movements. After that, it’s crucial to spend time with them, talk to them, and make them your friends. If they don’t know you well or aren’t sure about your role in the flock, they’ll avoid you. It’s also important to let them know you’re the flock leader. They rely on the flock leader to keep them safe, show them where food is, and keep them comfortable.
3) People-friendly chickens require chicken friendly people. Talk nice, act calmly, and make sure your flock understands that you are their main food source. If your flock mainly forages for food, they essentially have to fend for themselves. Consequently, they don’t ‘need’ you, they don’t know what to make of you, and chances are they will avoid you.
In short, interacting with chickens from the time they are chicks, feeding them, and handling them are mandatory when looking to establish a friendly flock.
Best Bets for Breeds
Clearly the varieties selectively bred for docile and friendly personalities are the ones to go for when choosing your flock. While it’s important to note that a breed-designated trait does not imply that every single chicken in that breed HAS that trait, general thought is that certain behavioral traits are COMMON to certain breeds.
For example, dual purpose and “meat breeds” tend to be mellow, while leaner layer hens are inclined to be anxious. Breeds originally developed for cock fighting tend to be (surprise!) aggressive. Some breeds, such as Silkies and Cochins, are more apt to go broody, and drop everything to incubate eggs and mother their chicks, while others (most dual purpose breeds) tend to be excellent foragers. While there are of course exceptions, for the most part these stereotypes hold true.
Following this lead, and based on well documented opinions of chicken farmers in general, here’s a list of several breeds of the most friendly chickens around:
Silkies are one of the best chicken breeds to keep as pets, because of their size and temperament. Their soft, fluffy feathers feel like silk on a compact little body. Silkies are also one of the cutest chicken breeds. Actually, most wind up looking more like a stuffed animal than a chicken. This makes them very appealing to children! Some Silkies have “beards” which almost totally obscure their faces, while others are beardless. With their bright blue earlobes, a fifth toe on each foot, a super sweet personality and an appreciation for being held and petted, you can’t help but find them adorable.
Large chickens can be wonderfully friendly also! The Speckled Sussex is a fairly large (roosters can weigh up to 8 pounds while hens weigh about 6 pounds) but beautiful chicken. It has a single comb, and its feet are free of feathers. Hens have reddish brown feathers with black and white “speckling” which gives the breed its name. Each feather has a white tip, and the amount of speckles varies from chicken to chicken. They’re curious, the first to check out new situations, absolutely love attention, and are intelligent, mellow pets. As mature birds, they like to be held, stroked, and talked to. They may even follow you around. Speckled Sussex are tops on the list of backyard friendly breeds, often too large to have as ‘inside’ chickens, yet friendly enough to be outside pets!
Another larger sized chicken, the Orpington is a good all-purpose utility breed, providing both eggs and meat, and it is also frequently bred for show– meaning they are a great overall chicken. This is a friendly breed, often termed the “Golden Retriever” of chickens. They make good outdoor pets for families, schools, or clubs. In fact, it is recommended that you get Buff Orpingtons if you have children that enjoy playing with the flock. Most chicken research deems the Buff Orpington as laid back, patient and friendly, who love to receive food treats; and who don’t mind being picked up.
The Rhode Island Red is one of my favorite chicken breeds. We have had a few ourselves, and they’ve always been incredibly friendly chickens. They’re one of the easiest chickens to keep, super gentle, are comfortable being held, and do well with children. In general, Rhode Island Reds are people-lovers and comfortable with human contact, as well as having the bonus of also being friendly with other members of their own flock. Finally, Reds are cold hardy, and will lay eggs for you all year round.
Cochins are one of the largest breeds of chickens you will ever have in your chicken coop. These gentle giant hens weigh in at about 8 pounds while the roosters can often tip the scales at about 11 pounds (they can often look even more substantial than that because of their very fluffy feathers).
Despite their large size, Cochins will be also be some of the calmest and friendliest birds in your flock, making them great lap chickens. They are very child-friendly, appreciate human contact, and again despite their size, are often somewhat submissive to other birds so they are not commonly on top of the pecking order. Cochin chickens are happiest when they are close to home. They love nothing more than knowing their boundaries and sticking to them, which is why these sweet and fluffy giants make excellent backyard pets! Although not kept by owners who prioritize egg production, Cochins are among the best mothers in the chicken world, and will often foster eggs of another bird and raise the chicks as her own.
Wyandottes are classified as a dual purpose breed, so they are not particularly small birds. They are generally amiable and docile birds that are also quite easily handled. A beautifully feathered breed, Wyandottes also bear confinement well and are particularly cold hardy, so they are a good choice for the backyard chicken keeper and are handled easily by children as well.
Australorps are the Australian take on the western Orpington breed (“Austrail-orp”). They are a medium sized breed, mostly known for their egg-laying productivity. They are generally calm, peaceful, dignified, and friendly, and excellent layers of light brown eggs. Smallish and friendly, bearing confinement well, Australorps are known as a great breed for people looking for pet chickens in their backyard flock.
“Easter Eggers” are not actually a true breed. They are incredibly popular hybrids of Araucana and Ameraucana chicken heritage that are particularly prized for the unusual colors of their eggs; blue, green, olive, aqua, even pink. These chickens are great egg producers, and they don’t appear to mind being confined so they’re very easy to care for. In general, Easter eggers are very friendly, easy going, and calm, and often enjoy sitting on the laps of their caretakers.
Faverolles are often primarily described as ‘sweet’. They are a breed that is so gentle and social with people as well as other chickens, oftentimes when mixed with other breeds the Faverolles get picked on terribly. As the only breed in a backyard chicken family, however, Faverolles are unbeaten as the ultimate chicken companion for children. Not only do they not mind being held, but they love to be kissed and cuddled and wouldn’t dream of pecking, poking or scratching anyone. Also winter hardy and good egg layers all year long, Faverolles have become a true favorite with families.
10) Jersey Giants
Jersey Giant chickens are very friendly, calm and docile breed. Of particular note with this breed is they are also very friendly with other varieties of birds and even other pets. They are large enough as not to be frightened by other domesticated pets, and roosters of this breed are also very low on the aggression scale. Jersey Giants are robust and fairly cold hardy. They are not flighty, but require lot of space because of their size. Other than the fact that they are not as easily handled because of their size, Giants make good pets for children because they are so extremely docile and calm.
Again, as we end the list of these several friendly, happy, child safe chicken breeds, we need to remember that every chicken may show the behavioral characteristics typical of its breed, but within every breed there is always individual variation. Certainly every breed has individuals with temperament variation along the spectrum, and even raising two chicks from the same breed the same way will prove that friendliness is not a guarantee. Give it a go and enjoy your new friends, whatever breed they might be. If you are just beginning to get interested in starting a flock of your own, check out these tips on raising backyard chickens.