Chickenology: Simple Training of the Flock
Conditioning your pullets to be interactive with people is much more easily accomplished when it is begun when they are chicks in the brooder. A few days after the chicks have hatched, make a point of handling the chicks each and everyday; gently hold them and pet them each in-turn...they need to get used to being handled and held so that when they are older they will not respond negatively to your presence. Get them to eat their chick feed out of your hand a few times each day...once they associate you with food, they will come to you whenever you enter the yard. I also make a series of soft clucking sounds so that I will be able to call them when they get older.
When my pullets were first feathering out and going outside in the yard for the first time, I showed them where to find bugs and grubs in the garden (well so did the ducks, but I showed them the garden)...now the flock follows me as I walk about the yard doing my chores. If I find a bunch of moths or bugs...all I have to do is tap the ground a few times, in a pecking motion and they come running in to gobble up whatever food I have found for them.
If the flock consists of older birds, the process of aclimating them to you is more difficult, but not impossible. You may never be able to pick them up and hold them without them getting excited, but you should be able to feed them and have them come to you. Having control of your birds and being able to call them is a minimum amount of control that all poultry handlers wisely need to have over their birds. If you can't call your birds to you, then I would advise that you reconsider any attempts at free-ranging your birds, even in the relative safety of your backyard. When you get adult birds from another source and if these birds were chased and abused by their previous owners, then they may never fully trust you. Chased birds may never come to you when you need them too. The only birds that I have ever had big problems with were "started birds" or "adult birds" that I acquired from others. I have never had behavior problems with birds that I raised myself from chicks.
When training adult birds, you will need to make the effort to go out to the yard several times each day...morning and afternoon will work....and always bring a treat for the birds with you. You want the flock to think of food when they see you coming to the yard. Make a sound each time that you give them a treat...make the same sound each time. You will be able to use this sound later to call them when you want them to come to you, or more importantly when you are trying to get them into their coops & runs ahead of a storm or some other emergency. (I make a soft "Puck Puck Puck...Puck Puck Puck" series of sounds when I feed my girls and when I call them. My kids used to laugh at me, but then they found that this series of sounds also works for them when they go out into the backyard to call the girls).
If the chickens won't come to you initially, then simply toss the treat to them and kneel down close to the ground while they eat it; toss the next treat closer to you, always working the birds so that they get closer to you. Don't stand when you are trying to tame or train a flock of adult birds; your height over them will already work against you by causing them to be cautious of you. More than anything, you are trying to instill "trust" in these older birds. Poultry are naturally fearfull of things from the sky and you don't want them to be intimidated while you are trying to train them...The goal is for the birds to be calm and trusting whenever you are in the yard. So don't stand while you work with them, until you have instilled a level of trust in them.
Each time that you go to the yard, you must bring a treat for them. Casually work the flock so that they get successively closer to you to get their treats. Don't make any sudden movements or talk loudly around the flock while you are working with them. Given time, they will learn to eat from your hand if they want to get their treat. Chickens behave a lot like sheep and all it takes is one bird to trust you enough to eat from your hand and here they all come.
Be patient and in a week or so...they will come running to you each time that they see you. They may suddenly stop at a distance as they assess what you've brought for them, but the fact that they are coming to you indicates that you are no longer a threat (or not as much of a threat). When they start coming to you, they are starting to trust you. Soon they will follow you as you walk about the yard.
When you are trying to move the birds; to herd them into a specific location. Move slowly and use your arms to guide them. NEVER try to herd them until you have established trust in the flock. When you want to turn them, stick your arm out infront of you while moving along with them, this will cause the birds to change their line of movement to a direction opposite of your arm movements. NEVER chase the chickens, ALWAYS move slowly and smoothly. Chasing your birds will detsroy their trust that they have in you, and regaining that trust is going to be a very hard row to hoe. Never chase your birds...nothing good will come of it.
Ducks are much easier to herd than chickens. I have 2 ducks in the flock. These ducks were raised with the pullets from the time that they all were all just a few days old. The pullets follow the ducks where ever they go. So, I herd the ducks when I need to move the flock and the pullets follow the ducks. If you want to herd your chickens regularly then start a few ducks with your chicks when you begin your flock.
Edited by Rock Home Isle - 6/12/12 at 7:42am