A chicken, like all living creatures, has a certain amount of energy to deal with daily tasks and only enough extra energy to adapt to minor uncommon events or moderate changes.
Stress happens when events or changes are so frequent or extreme that they quickly deplete the chicken’s energy, leaving too little energy for everyday demands and weakening its immunity to disease.
What Causes Stress
You cannot avoid stress in a chicken’s life. Every chicken goes through it sometimes.
The majority of chickens can adapt, even during times of extreme stress. However, it’s helpful to be aware of a few typical sources of stress for chickens:
- The time between hatching and the 1st feed or water was too long.
- Rough handling
- Damp, cold floors
- A minor infection
- Consuming rotten food
- Unusual or unexpected sounds or movements
- Being too cold or too hot in the first few weeks of life
- Being transported
- Being relocated to new housing
- Extreme temperature fluctuations or drafts
- Feeders, drinkers, or litter that are dirty
- Internal and external parasites
- Inadequate ventilation
- Conflict or disruption in the pecking order
- Medication or vaccination
- Extreme temperatures
- Improper diet and nutritional deficiencies
- Combining different-aged chickens
- Inadequate space for a drinker or a feeder
- Extended periods of time without food or water
Being a good host to your chickens is part of stress management. Make sure to provide the following:
- Adequate shelter from the weather.
- Dry, clean litter.
- Good ventilation without drafts.
- Fresh water and feed.
- Proper diet.
- Enough space per chicken.
Since chicks develop quickly and can easily outgrow their housing, it’s crucial to prevent crowding.
Birds are exposed to disease-causing microorganisms as they mature, which helps them establish healthy immune systems. However, crowding-related stress can lead to disease rather than immunity.
For more information about how much space each chicken needs, check out my post: How Much Room Do Chickens Need?
A chicken should always be handled gently as a stress-reduction technique.
Chickens who have been handled gently are less stressed during any medical treatment and are calmer and simpler to handle.
Chickens that are handled gently are also more resistant to infections than chickens who are generally neglected or are treated forcefully.
Introducing change to chickens can be a difficult process, as chickens naturally prefer routine and are easily stressed when their environment changes. However, with the right approach, you can slowly introduce change in such a way that your chickens remain calm and comfortable.
The key is to introduce change gradually. Making sudden changes or introducing too much at once will cause your chickens stress and insecurity.
Start with the smallest changes first – like changing their bedding or adding new toys – so they get used to it bit by bit.
You can also add new feed options over time, letting them explore these foods at their own pace until they become comfortable with them.
Signs of Stress
Knowing how your chickens typically behave will help you spot stress-related changes.
Here are 3 things to look out for:
Changes in Droppings: Droppings that are wet and loose can indicate stress. Additionally, loose feces may indicate a problem with the feed or water, or it may indicate that your chickens have a digestive issue.
Changes in Breathing: Crowding, fear, extreme heat, or respiratory distress can all contribute to labored breathing. It can also mean that the chicken coop is overly dusty, the ammonia fumes are too intense, or the chickens are developing a respiratory disease.
Changes in Behavior: Any number of reasons, such as fear, boredom, crowding, the introduction of new chickens, a lack of water or food, dirty water, extreme weather, and disease, can cause changes in normal behavior or activity.
Behavior changes to look out for include:
- Feather picking
- Excessive water drinking
- Egg eating
- Restlessness at roosting time
- Flightiness (although some chicken breeds are more prone to flightiness)
- Loss of interest in its surrounding
- Pacing (which can indicate anxiety, frustration, or boredom)
- A ragged appearance (no interest in grooming)
- Unprovoked attacks on people, familiar pets, or other chickens