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Why do chickens squat when you pick them up or stroke them?

If you have young hens you might start to see their behaviour start to change once they get to around 16-20 weeks old.

One of these changes is squatting down as you go to stroke them or if you’re walking behind them. I have four young hens at the moment who nearly trip you up when you go to feed them and they suddenly stop in their tracks!

Chickens squat as a submissive behavior, often exhibited when they are receptive to mating. When you reach to stroke or pick them up, they may interpret it as rooster-like dominance, responding by squatting to show compliance and submission. This behavior is common in hens that have reached sexual maturity.

In the absence of a cockerel, hens will instinctively squat when a human comes towards them, tries to stroke them or pick them up.

Read on to find out more about squatting hens and other signs they are maturing and becoming ready to lay.

Other signs which show a hen is ready to start laying eggs

Squatting is one of the main signs that a hen is ready or nearly ready to start laying eggs, but there are some other signs to look out for too, these include:

  • Growth of the comb (on top of the head) – a young chicken not ready for laying has a very small comb.
  • Growth of the wattles (underneath the chin)
  • Darkening/reddening of the face, comb and wattles.
  • If your chickens are free-range you might start to see them spending more time in and around the coop at times when they’d usually be grazing.

The image below shows one of our hybrid hens in the week when she first started laying, as you can see there is good growth on both the comb and the wattles, which are also nice and red:

Image of a chicken at laying age

Should you stay away from a squatting hen?

You don’t need to worry about being the cause of a hen squatting because you won’t upset the bird, it’s just something they do instinctively when they’re coming up to or in lay.

Once the hen has squatted down she will quickly get back up and continue to get on with whatever she was doing before.

The fact they do squat and stand still when they’re younger can actually be useful if you need to pick them up to check them over.

How long after squatting do chickens lay eggs?

Once a hen starts to squat its usual for them to start laying within one or two weeks, although the exact timescale varies from hen to hen.

If you have other hens of the same age they’ll usually follow suit once one starts laying.

For more information on this topic along with how to deal with a hen who’s squatting but not yet laying, you might find the following article helpful:

Chickens Squatting But no Eggs (is There a Problem?)

Image of eggs in a nest box

If chickens are squatting but there’s no sign of any eggs

If you have a hen who is squatting but there’s no sign of laying, don’t worry too much because the hen will start laying when it’s ready, there are however a few things to consider which may be causing a lack of eggs, these are:

  • If your hens free range during the day are they laying somewhere else? – hens can lay in hedgerows instead of in the coop.
  • Have they got access to nest boxes throughout the day?
  • Is there anything in the coop which is putting them off laying – for example, red mites or rodents?
  • Egg-laying can be seasonal – if the weather is particularly cold the hens may not lay.

In some cases, if winter has arrived a hen may not start laying until the following spring.

Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article that was first published on October 28, 2020.

It’s also normal for a young hen to lay where they stand when they first start, so you might find eggs in strange places.

If you do think your hens are laying elsewhere leaving them in the run for a few days should help them to get used to laying in the nest. Chickens normally lay in the morning so you could still let them free-range later in the day.

Another good way to promote nest laying is to use a rubber or ceramic egg in the nest. They will also be encouraged once they see other hens eggs in there too.

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I hope this post has helped you to find out more about squatting chickens, you might also find the following related topics useful:

Chickens eating eggs – why they do it and how to stop it

How to get chickens to follow you

Are backyard chicken eggs safe to eat?

Can or should you wash backyard chicken eggs?

Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter and During Cold Weather

Our recommended coop

Chicken coop for different flock sizes and different weather.

This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on October 28, 2020.

Click here to find out more about our recommended coop.