How to Keep Chickens – Part Two
If they are the first non-household creatures you have kept, you need to understand the basics, which apply to all creatures.
Chickens live to scratch and explore and eat and bring up chicks. A sick chicken will be sluggish, and not have an appetite. Usually, if you can catch one easily, it is sick. They look sick; tired eyes, weight loss (very difficult to spot on a feathered thing) difficulty walking, loss of feathers (it could be a moult, which is normal) and they don't eat. They will become loners. They are easy to catch and pick up - a sure sign something is wrong. My chickens rarely get ill, but when they do, it has most often been something called "Scaly Leg" - a mite which burrows into their legs and will, if not treated, cause loss of said legs and/or death. All my problems with this came from getting chickens from breeders who don't pay much attention to this. Scaly leg is infectious and needs to be discovered and dealt with. More on that later. In the end, it means you have to catch your hens and treat them, which, ultimately forms a bond between you.
Which brings me to fallacy number one. Chickens don't like being cuddled; they think you are going to eat them. After a while, they may stop being terrified of being picked up, but there will always be a lingering doubt in their minds that your motives are bad. You hear plenty of stories, and see pictures of happy owners cuddling chickens, but in my experience, it is the exception, not the norm. Some will eat from your hand, and as long as you accept that beaks can be sharp, it is fun to let them.
A word on catching chickens. You can, if necessary, use a net. I have not used one in 8 years, but people do. It's easy to catch a chicken, but not easy to catch one without injuring it. The best time to catch them is at night, when they have gone to roost. Even then, you have to be quick and efficient. Only apply sufficient force to keep them still.