How to handle and hold baby chicks.

A day old Silkie chick being carefully handled by a keeper.

Is it okay to hold baby chicks?

It is absolutely fine to hold baby chicks from the minute they are dry and fluffy out of the incubator. The best way to hold a chick is to encircle its body with your hand with your fingers and thumb loosely around it's body and allowing the head to peek out of your hand.

I hold mine for a good 5 mins or so, just be sure to be very gentle and if they want to go be sure to let them down so they know you are not a threat.

I pick all of the chicks up one at a time and hold them. I look them over and check all their parts.

Start slowly so as not to spook the chicks and never let them get too cold so they start to peep loudly.

How do you handle baby chicks?

Safe handling techniques and precautions for holding baby chicks:

  1. If there is a mother hen then be careful. They are very protective of their chicks and you could find yourself dealing with an angry ball of feathers.
  2. Let chicks eat, drink and sleep before handling them. They will be more docile and easier to hold.
  3. Never hold chicks by the head, feet or let them dangle.
  4. Try not to force them if they are not up for it. give them time to get used to you.
  5. Hold them carefully with two hands.
  6. Don't squeeze, drop or maul them.
  7. Little and often is a good mantra for handling baby chickens.
  8. Try not to keep them out of the brooder for to long, they will get cold.
  9. Keep them away from your mouth and wash your hands when you are done.

How soon can you hold a baby chick?

You can hold a baby chicks as soon as it is dry and fluffy after hatching.

I make a point of getting mine used to me by being a "mother hen" and sprinkling chick crumb in the feeder tray to get them interested in eating and dipping a few beaks in water. This way they get used to me, my voice and associate me with food.

How often should you handle baby chicks?

You can handle chicks every day or several times a day if you have the time and they are enjoying it. Provided you and them are both healthy and they are not scared or frightened by you then holding is an excellent way of socialising and taming baby chickens.

Below: If you are unsure or worried, hold the chick on a large, flat and safe surface to prevent falls.

Remember not to rush and let them get used to your face and voice, it will happen quicker with restraint and patience.

Do baby chicks like to be held?

Some do, some don't and some are just not bothered. Don't force that ones that don't like it, Try bribing them with treats and getting them used to you slowly

I handle mine several times a day. They really seem to like the attention. Before I pick them up, I give them an earthworm or a little spinach leaf for a treat and then they associate me with exciting goodies. I really don't pet mine much, just hold the birds in my hands or on my lap. They usually fall asleep, but it's mostly due to a full tummy.

Below: This chick has fallen asleep.

It is important to remember that they are not like cats and dogs, they don't necessarily crave petting like regular pets do, although some will. Don't feel rejected if they don't want to be held or petted, they're just being chickens.

Can you hold baby chicks too much?

Yes, If you are really overdoing it!

If you hold them for too long they may get agitated and some chicks do not like being away from their brood mates and will try to get back to them.

Below: Squeezing and being turned upside down can distress chicks.

Can your baby chicks make you sick?

It is possible to catch some bugs from your chicks. E coli is one. That said it is rare but you should practice good hygiene and wash your hands after handling chicks.

Avoid handling sick chicks or use disposable gloves if you need to.

What about children handling baby chicks?

I am naturally wary of letting children handle my chicks, I once had to prize a little boys fingers open when he squeezed a chick much to hard so some care is needed especially if it is the first time.

My rule is they can pet the chicks on the top of the head with one finger or sit on the floor and have a chick on their lap, but they can't hold them until they get used to them and have had a few lessons.

Below: a happy chick in a child's hand.

Children have a tendency to grip too tight especially when the chick starts struggling to get down.

Only one chick is allowed out of the brooder at a time and baby chicks are not allowed on the floor at all.

Handling older chicks and growers:

Older birds are usually a bit more sturdy but they have grown some feathers and have quite a kick.

Older chicks can often fly quite well and can be difficult to catch. They have also grown claws by this stage and have strong legs

Below: Struggling and flapping is best avoided.

I have found the best way to hold an older chick is to sit it in your hand so as its legs dangle between your fingers. The means is cant push off or scratch you with it's kicking. You can grip the thighs tightly between your finger and the youngster is safe and secure.

Why you should not handle chicks and chickens:

The reality is that most people should have no trouble or effects from handling baby chicks but there are a few groups of people who should avoid handling chicks.

  1. Allergy or asthma.
  2. Severe autoimmune conditions. The medication often works by suppressing the immune system.
  3. You or the birds are ill or undergoing treatment. Some avian medications can cause allergic reactions in humans.

It is rare that someone is made ill by a backyard chicken but it can and does happen. The most common infection people catch from their chickens is stomach bugs like E coli.

How not to hold baby chicks:

Avoid holding them too tightly so they can not move at all, this is likely to cause distress. I have had chicks that like to snuggle really tightly inside a closed hand but they will do this of their own accord and it can't be forced.

Below: Best not to let them stand on an open hand.

Baby chicks should not be held by the wings, head, feet or tail, or dragged about. Catch them swiftly in one single motion and if you miss, then let them go and try again later.

Can chickens die if you hold them too much?

As a rule, no, baby chicks can not die from being held unless it is:

  1. Panicking and has a heart attack.
  2. You drop it and it gets injured or taken by a family pet
  3. Or you grip it too hard and injure it internally.

Provided you handle them with care it should never be a problem.