Dogs love them. Cats love them. Even humans love them. Well, some of them, anyway. It therefore should be no surprise that chickens love belly rubs, too.
Social media is full of photos and videos of hens and roosters, bellies in the air and blissful expressions on their faces, having their tummies stroked by their owners, and of baby chicks drifting off to sleep to tummy strokes. But before you grab your girl and start giving her a massage, there are a few things you should know.
Why Belly Rubs?
What is it about belly rubs that animals love so much? In a word: accessibility. Anatomy simply doesn’t allow animals to easily access their own abdomens.
“They’re really not built to reach their own bellies with their beaks, teeth or feet,” said Dr. Michael Hoffman, a U.S. Army veterinarian based in New Mexico. “For them, belly rubs isn’t just enjoyable, it’s relief.”
This is especially true, Dr. Hoffman notes, for chickens that free range, as they can pick up irritants such as burrs and insects that embed themselves beneath their feathers.
A Matter of Trust
Don’t go reaching for your rooster just yet, however. Animals instinctively understand that the most vulnerable area of their body is their belly. Unlike the rib-shielded torso, the abdomen has no skeletal structure to protect it from injury, making it an easy target for predators that eviscerate their prey.
Because of this, chickens—or any domestic animal—will not readily expose their underside … unless they trust you. The exception, of course, are baby chicks, who are too new to life to comprehend the concept of threats and will willingly give themselves over to cuddles and caresses. Adult and older juveniles, on the other hand, will react to approaching humans by shying away or charging.
If you have not taken the time and effort to build a trustful relationship with your birds, giving them belly rubs is most likely not an option for you.
A Breed Apart
Another consideration is the breed you are raising. Several chicken breeds are known for their gentleness, docility and friendliness, and are more predisposed to being closely handled. If you are rearing Orpingtons, Cochins, Silkies, Plymouth Rocks, Australorps or Jersey Giants, you are already a step ahead, as these breeds are calm and affectionate.
You’ll still need to develop that bond of trust, but it will be easier from the get go. Other breeds are flighty—Polish, Leghorns and Ameraucana—or aggressive—Game, Malay and Asil—by nature, making it much more difficult to develop a trustful relationship with them.
Don’t rule it completely out, but understand that it will be far more challenging.
How to Give a Belly Rub
Ready to treat your chicken to a belly rub? Start by securely holding your bird, right side up, against your chest. Be sure to talk to it continually in a gentle, reassuring voice. Maintain eye contact and, with one arm securely holding the bottom half of your bird, use your free hand to reach underneath and rotate it into a reclined, belly-up position.
The hold will be similar to how a baby is cradled.
From here, continue maintaining eye contact and talking in a soothing manner while stroking your chicken’s tummy right down the middle of its carriage. Always stroke downward with the full flat of your hand. The repetitive motion, paired with your murmuring voice, will not only relax your bird but may even put it in a sleepy, trancelike state.
To give a baby chick a belly rub, gently lay the little chicken on its back in the palm of your hand, then stroke it from just under its chin down to its belly with your thumb or index finger. Don’t be surprised if your chick falls asleep to your stroking.