Chicken on a Leash?

Or Chickens in Strollers?

Chicken on a Leash?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Most of us have occasionally seen an unusual animal being taken for a walk, complete with leash and harness.  At one time, on leashes were a rarity, but not these days. Even chameleons on leads with their tiny harnesses can be seen from time to time. But a chicken on a leash? Chickens in strollers? Why would you take a chicken for a walk? 



Walkies for Chickens 

Both exercising and exploring new environments are as important for chickens as for any other animal.  Chickens get “exercise” naturally as part of their daily activities. The fact that chickens have an innate desire to roam, scratch in the dirt, flap their wings, and take dust baths is evident, but when circumstances prohibit these natural actions, chickens can become discontented, and obese and create discord in a flock. 

Lots of backyard poultry parents move their birds’ runs or coops around to give the chickens access to fresh greens and new sights. When such shifts are impossible, taking a chicken on an outing with a leash or in a stroller is an interesting possibility to keep your birds healthy and entertained.  Also, walking your chicken will attract attention, giving you a chance to talk with others about chickens and chickening. 

Ready, Set, Walk! 

So, how would you prepare your chicken for a walk or stroller ride? Since most hens would be unlikely to follow you far from their secure area, and since a chicken away from home and unprotected would be in peril, you need a way to contain and control your charge. Getting a chicken to wear something like a leash or harness while walking is not easy and takes patience. It will also take time, trial, and error for your chicken to trust what is happening when being removed from the flock. 

Choosing a Leash or Harness 

To start training for a leash walk, find a suitable pet harness, jersey, or a cloth restraint that will comfortably hold the chicken’s wings close to its body to prevent flapping but doesn’t interfere with leg movement. It should be only tight enough to remain securely in place and to close firmly on top with a loop or D-ring attached to accommodate a lightweight leash. Perusing a pet shop may produce a serviceable harness. Cat harnesses, for instance, are small, light, and made of soft cloth.  

Initially, choose a hen that is used to cuddling. While holding the chicken on your lap, wrap the harness loosely around its body. To start with, just hold the harness around, or against the chicken, but not really restraining the bird.  Your aim is to get the hen to feel comfortable with something on its back. 

Choose a chicken that is tolerant of you already, not one that is extremely skittish or difficult to catch. Reward the hen by giving her a treat after the harness is briefly in place, and another treat when removing it. As you gently put the harness on, cuddle your bird and ‘sweet talk’ it. Eventually, you and your bird will feel comfortable with a stable harness, and with slowly setting the bird on the ground, leash attached, for the first time. 

These procedures need to be repeated until you judge that you are ready for the first walking-on-leash trial, which should be brief and close to familiar surroundings. When you and your hen are ready, begin to explore new areas, and enjoy new, unpicked places that offer grubs and other delights. 

Whether using a stroller or leash, it is important to be aware that there are dangers associated with taking a chicken away from its protected area and exposing it to uncontrolled environmental conditions.

“I realized I could use a leash and harness to take my chickens to friends’ yards, to help them with their pest problems, feed my chickens and let them explore a new area,” says Lisa of Murano Chicken Farm. “It gave them time to practice leash walking.” 

Going for short walks is the first step to gaining your bird’s trust to allay any discomfort or fear.  Begin solely since teaching a chicken to walk on a leash is not an easy task. Once learned, however, your bird will become accustomed to new adventures and enjoy new foods and sights along the daily route. On each journey, walk a little farther until the chicken trusts you. “I let my leashed hens peck around while the others forage,” says hen owner, Jaclyn Malagies of Florida.  

 
Strolling with Fowl 

Another approach to ‘walking’ a chicken (although not a physical exercise) is to use a stroller. This can be helpful if you have a chicken that must be removed or isolated for some reason, such as an illness, physical disability, or are being bullied, and walking is impossible. Conditioning a chicken to tolerate and eventually enjoy stroller excursions requires tons of patience and experimentation to assure that your hen is safely contained and that she enjoys the ride. Jaclyn takes two hens at a time, using a double-decker stroller. “My hens used to be stressed and sometimes just wanted to jump out during walks,” she says. “But after a week, they started laying down and enjoying the view. You can also add straw or hay to the bottom of the stroller for added comfort.”  

Exercise Caution 

Whether using a stroller or leash, it is important to be aware that there are dangers associated with taking a chicken away from its protected area and exposing it to uncontrolled environmental conditions. Dogs, children, or other creatures may approach which would frighten the chicken, causing frantic attempts to escape. Keeping your birds safe is a challenge and every precaution must be taken even while on your own property. 

chicken-on-leash-or-stroller
Photo Credit: Instagram @hen_named_ed

In a stroller or on a leash, you must be alert. If leash-walking, you should avoid masses of gravel or any other surfaces that might hurt your bird’s feet, such as broken glass.  Check their feet before and after the walk, looking for scrapes, cuts, or bruises. For instance, bumblefoot is an infection caused by bacteria entering through a break in the chicken’s skin, such as a cut, a scratch, or even an irritated area.  Because an injury may not show immediately, watch for limping, favoring one leg, curled toes, sore hocks, or swollen joints. Your hen may sit or rest more often than usual to avoid foot pain.  

If walking your hen is likely to expose it to hazardous conditions, “trying the stroller method might be a better choice,” says Jaclyn. “…or if you simply want to avoid leash walking and have more than one hen you want to walk, use a stroller.” 

When getting a house-bound chicken out of its enclosure becomes important, taking it for a walk to enjoy new sights, or find new foraging ground is an adventure regardless of which method of transport you choose. Seeing the ‘Little Red Hen’ passing by in a stroller or on a leash is an arresting sight and sure to attract attention, creating the opportunity for education and socialization, for both you and your birds. 

Anita Stone is a retired science education teacher, a reading specialist, an author, freelancer, naturalist, and a certified Master Gardener.  

Originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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