We’ve all heard the phrase happy wife, happy life. But if you’re a keeper of chickens, you may want to put some thought into the happiness of your feathered friends. While it’s easy for humans to communicate their feelings with words, chickens don’t quite have that luxury. So how can you tell if your hens are happy and healthy?
While chickens may not be able to tell us outright that they are having a bad day or that something is making them uncomfortable, there are several ways you can figure out how your chicken is feeling. Below you will find 9 ways to know if your chicken is happy, and how to tell if they are not.
Your Chickens Are Foraging
Chickens tend to be quite lively and will spend most of their time foraging for food. They seem to be in constant movement. They will travel across the yard in a group, pecking at the ground in search of seeds and worms. This not only keeps your chickens busy but provides extra nutrients for a balanced diet.
- While they will occasionally take a break or return to the coop for a rest, these moments are typically long or frequent.
- If you notice one of your hens sitting back while the others scurry around the yard, this may be a cause for concern.
- While it could be something as simple as a change in the weather that put your chicken out of sorts, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it.
Regular Chicken Chatter
Chickens are a chatty bunch. They love to gossip! Whether in the coop, grazing, or nesting, consistent clucks, murmurs, and trills are signs of a happy hen. In fact, if your chickens aren’t making much noise, this is often a cause for concern.
Research has shown that chickens make around 30 different sounds (source) to communicate different things like laying, distress, and contentment. While deciphering each of these sounds and their meanings is nearly impossible, there are a few notable clucks and behaviors that demonstrate a happy and healthy chicken.
- First off, regular soft clucking while grazing is always a good sign.
- As hens graze, they will use clucks and murmurs to show approval of the food, especially if they’ve been given a special treat.
- If you’ve ever let out an “mmm” while eating a particularly tasty meal, I’m sure you can relate to this.
Chickens also tend to stay close to each other while out of the coop. One of the main reasons for this is safety. While soft murmuring shows contentment, if any of the chickens show agitation or alarm, the others will know instantly.
- Silence isn’t always golden, especially in the chicken coop.
- Coop chatter is another one to look out for.
If you are entering the coop in the morning and aren’t greeted with a “hello” then you can suspect that something is up.
There’s a big difference between regular chicken chatter, and the sounds of a distressed coop. Anything outside of the ordinary clucks might be a sign that your chickens are in trouble. But again, on the other side of things, a coop that’s too quiet isn’t great either. So keep your ears open and listen to your chickens.
Hens Have a Consistent Laying Routine
- Consistent laying is a clear sign of a happy and healthy hen.
- While the number varies between breeds, most chickens lay an average of 5-6 eggs a week.
- Not only is this best for the health of your chickens, but this will often produce higher quality eggs as well.
Research has found that stress levels of hens can impact laying routines. (source) If your chickens are experiencing too many disturbances while nesting this could impact how often they lay.
Perch arrangement can also influence how long a chicken perches. (source) Providing various perch options may make your hen more comfortable and contribute to welfare and happiness.
Your Chickens Follow You Everywhere
If you are expecting your chickens to tell you that they are happy to see you with the wag of a tail, that’s probably not going to happen. However, a chicken following you around the yard can be taken in almost the same way.
Yes, your feathered friend may just be hunting you down for food, but this isn’t always the case. Chickens are highly social and enjoy being around people. Happy chickens are known to come running up to their owners, even before they’ve had a chance to enter the yard.
They Have High Energy and Curiosity
- Chickens are perpetually curious and seem to move nonstop.
- They often appear overly alert, moving their heads in various directions to explore their surroundings and listen.
- While your hens may seem frantic as they strut and scurry around the yard, this is a sure sign of happiness.
However, these movements should appear confident, not skittish. If your chickens’ movements appear frightened, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them.
On the flip side, if you notice that your chickens seem lethargic, sluggish, or are hiding in the coop, this may also be a sign that something isn’t quite right.
Here’s a quick video of some happy chickens to give an idea of how they behave, with a lot more info below:
The Feathers are Strong and Vibrant
Just like the coat of many furry four-legged friends can say a lot about their health, a chicken’s feathers can tell you a lot as well.
A healthy chicken’s feathers will have a vibrant sheen to them. Chicken feathers provide insulation and protection. This means that feathers play a key role in keeping the chicken healthy and strong.
Unless your chickens are molting, you shouldn’t see any patches or tufts of dull feathers. Molting typically occurs at the end of summer, so if your chickens are having issues at any other time, more investigation may be necessary.
Some factors that can contribute to molting are stress, illness, malnutrition, and extreme heat.
You should also be on the lookout for feather pecking and feather plucking. (source) This is a clear indicator that something is amiss, and you’ll want to address it for the health of your chickens.
Your Chickens Are Well-Groomed
If your chickens groom or preen themselves when you’re around, this is a sure sign of contentment. Grooming can be somewhat vulnerable. It requires attention to be taken from the surrounding area and requires a sense of comfort.
If your chickens are cleaning themselves while you are nearby, this means they feel relaxed enough in your presence. If they really like you, they may even try to pick pits of dirt and dust off you as well.
Eggs Have Strong Shells
The quality of an egg’s shell is a good indicator of your chicken’s health. Eggs require a lot of calcium, protein, and other nutrients to develop properly.
If your chicken is laying strong eggs, then you can rest assured that they are eating a balanced diet and managing stress.
If your hens are laying soft or weak-shelled eggs, this is often a sign of a diet low in calcium. Stress is another common cause of thin eggshells. Make sure to check for environmental stressors or illness and talk to a vet if you are concerned.
Your Hens Are Being Social
Another indicator that your chickens are happy is how much they are socializing. Chickens are highly social birds. They develop a pecking order early on and are able to recognize individuals within the flock with certain identifying features. (source)
Of course, there will always be a chicken or two who prefers to go at it alone. However, if your chickens aren’t characteristically strutting their stuff around the yard and engaging with the flock, this is something to keep an eye on.
Signs of an Unhappy Chicken
Knowing the signs of an unhappy chicken can be just as helpful when it comes to the health and happiness of your flock. While there are a number of reasons a chicken may be unhappy, the quicker you see the signs, the faster you will be able to take action and address the problem.
Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Not eating during feedings
- Feather picking
- Vocal sounds such as repetitive chirps or screams
- Dropped head
- Repetitive behaviors such as toe-tapping, rocking back and forth, or head swinging
- Aggressive behavior
- Standing still or not taking an interest in things around them
- Not laying or inconsistent laying
- Avoiding socializing or interacting with the flock
- Being unusually quiet
Chickens are sensitive and there are a number of reasons why they could be stressed or appear unhappy. This could be as simple as them not liking the nesting arrangement, or something more could be going on. However, being alert and knowing the signs can help you quickly find the cause of the stress and understand what you can do to help your chickens.
What Makes a Chicken Happy?
Now that you know what to look for, what are some things you can do to make your chickens happy?
- Your main goal here is to limit the amount of stress your chickens are exposed to.
- Chickens don’t handle stress well, and it can come in many forms.
- This includes environmental, social, physical, psychological, pathological, and nutritional stress.
Is the coop too hot or too cold? Are your chickens getting all the essential nutrients with their diet? Are they exhibiting signs of fear? Is there any bullying within the flock?
As an owner, you’ll want to stay alert and ask yourself questions like these to ensure that your chickens aren’t exposed to any unnecessary stress.
How Can You Make a Chicken Happier?
If you’ve gone through the list above and you’re not quite sure you see a happy coop, don’t worry too much. There are some ways you can improve the mood of your chickens. While each chicken is different, there are some common steps you can take to make your chickens happy.
- Provide a balanced diet. While chickens will eat just about anything, they have nutritional requirements just like we do. Make sure you are providing nutritious feed and giving them the right portions.
- Avoid overcrowding. Make sure that your flock has sufficient space to move around. This will help reduce fights and help ensure they are getting enough exercise.
- Set up a proper coop. Make sure your coop isn’t too hot or cold, is spacious enough, and has the right amount of ventilation.
- Take to your chickens. Greeting your chickens with a quick hello in the morning will usually get you a response. This is because chickens love to chat. Taking with your chickens is a great way to start interacting with them and form a bond.
- Don’t over handle them. While some chickens may like to be picked up, others may not. Take time to build up their trust, and don’t handle them too much or they may get stressed out.
- Give them fresh water. Don’t forget to regularly change the drinking water. Dirty water can lead to greater chances of disease.
- Keep them entertained. No one likes being bored, even chickens. Give your flock a chance to roam and explore the yard. Enrichment items like swings or things to peck on are also great ways to keep your chickens busy.
Chickens have many of the basic needs that humans do. Start with providing an adequate shelter, diet, and water, and expand from there. As your get to know your chickens, you will learn their individual personalities and be able to tell what will make each one happy.
When thinking about keeping chickens, most people get images of hens clucking around a coop and laying eggs. But there’s a lot more to it than you may realize, as you now know! Their happiness has a lot to do with their health, so keeping your flock content should be at the top of your priority list.
While chickens aren’t exactly known for being affectionate animals in the same ways that dogs and cats are, they will just as openly show you how they are feeling. However, after reading the above, you can decide for yourself whether or not your chickens are happy.