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The All New: How to Train Your Chicken!

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  1. Nutcase
    I know many people have accomplished these things with their chickens, so this is mainly for the people who are relatively new to chickens. I have completed all these levels myself with at least one chicken.

    How to Train Your Chicks

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have chickens coming when you call them, instead of running away at the sound of your footsteps? It isn’t as difficult as it sounds – training a hen to respond to certain words with actions. In fact, many chicken owners train their hens ‘accidentally’ – calling “chook chook” each evening as they dish out grain and scraps. This is just a basic example, though; chickens will react to sentences and longer phrases as well.

    Where do I Start?


    The first thing I want to address here is that chickens are not stupid! They all have their own personalities and will respond in different ways to different things. Some will learn easily, while others completely ignore you or simply run for the hills. If you want the chickens to become familiar with you, it’s best to start while they are very young, from day-old chicks to two-weeks old. The younger the chicks, the more likely that they’ll regard you as a mother. If they do, they will be probably be more cooperative when you train them.

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    Training Chicks – Starting Up

    In order to train effectively, you need to train the chicks separately (with one exception, see Training Levels, below).
    Before you try any basic commands, the chick must be familiar with you and calm in your presence. Always move slowly when around young chicks (and adult hens, for that matter) and speak quietly to them. If the chick runs away when it sees you or hears your voice, it is NOT familiar with you. Take it slowly. When we bought chicks for the first time, they were treated kindly and gently and within the day, they were sleeping quietly in my lap! Later on I was given another chick, and the other hens did not accept it into the flock. As a result it spent a lot of time away from them and regarded me as a ‘mother’ (she also thought she was a rabbit, but that’s another story).

    Level 1: Recognition of phrase and/or voice, e.g. “chook chook” accompanied by food. Multiple chickens. Chicks/hens.

    This is applicable to hens and chicks alike. You can use any sound you like - from your own voice to rattling a can full of coins or uncooked rice. It's very easy to do; in fact you are probably already doing it with your chickens. Every time I even click my tongue, the hens run out to see what treats I have for them.


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    Level 2: Response to name and phrase, e.g. ‘Blackie, come here!’. Single chicken. Chicks.

    For a chick to be familiar with any given name, it needs to hear that name often. Spend a few minutes with it at least twice a day, calling it by its name and offering it food. After about two days, my chick, whom I named ‘Charity’, came running whenever she heard “Charity, come here!”. This is where I made a mistake. Soon Charity became tired of running to me when she was not given any food as a reward. I had to start all over again, giving her a bit of food every single time. The only way to a chicken’s heart is through food, as I soon learned! Eventually, however, the name and command became so embedded in Charity’s brain that she came without expecting food. Use the chick’s name whenever you get the opportunity. Now Charity is a full-grown laying hen, and all I have to do is say “Charity…” and she comes bolting out of the coop.

    Level 3: Responding to phrase with jumping action, e.g. “Jump”, “Jump, Blackie!”. Single chicken. Chicks/hens.

    If you want this to work, you need to use a treat that the chicken really likes. If you just use regular commercial feed for training, the chicken is more likely to lose interest and you will have wasted your time. Hold a treat (e.g. a mealworm) between your fingers, making sure the chicken will have to jump in order to reach it. Tell it to jump and it will. Of course, with any luck, your chicken will complete 'Level 3' without you even trying.

    Level 4: Responding to phrase with halting action, e.g. “Stop, Blackie!”. Single chicken. Hens.

    The reason this level is better for hens is because hens are mature and ready to mate. Therefore, often when you approach them from behind they will squat down, as if you were a rooster. You can use this to your advantage. If a hen is running away from you, call "Stop!" before reaching down and quickly grabbing her. Do this whenever she runs away from you. Eventually she will realise what the word ‘Stop’ preludes. I trained one of my hens and now if I call “Stop!” from about 4 metres away, she will squat down and let me walk over and pick her up.

    Level 5: Responding to phrase with more complex jumping action, e.g. “Up, Blackie!”. Single chicken. Chicks/hens.

    In order for this level to work, the bird needs to be familiar and comfortable with you. Sit on the ground and call your chicken. If you have completed Level 2, she should come to you. Make sure you have a favourite treat and hold it in your lap. Say, “Up, (insert name here)!” as the chicken tries to get at the treat. Move the treat away from her slightly as she reaches for it. Before long, she will have to climb onto your lap in order to reach the treat. Praise her and try it again. It will take longer than the other levels but it does work. Charity climbs into my lap on command, treat or no treat, and likes to settle down for a cuddle.

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    Don't forget that the tone of voice you use will affect the results you get. If you say, "Up, Blackie!" angrily, your chicken might get a little confused. Use a happier tone for persuading/praising your chicken, and a sterner tone for scolding.

    And remember not to overdo it, or your chicken will get bored and frustrated. A few minutes per session is plenty.

    Have fun training your chickens! Let me know if there's anything you think should be added.


    Read about more advanced training here: Advanced Training Techniques

    - Nutcase
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Comments

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  1. Woytgirl
    OMGosh!! This is AMAZING!! :clapGreat job!!
  2. FeatherMtnFarms
    What a GREAT article! I will be doing this with my chicks that we are getting soon! Thank you!
  3. kim10261
    I have never had a problem with my chickens getting in the coop at night they go in all by themselves and when they are free ranging when they see me they come running,i have been very social with my babies , they so look forward to their morning breakfast every morning...cooked oatmeal raw baby spinach fruit or an extra veggie...sometimes I will sprinkle mealworms on top...they are so spoiled
  4. chixenwoman@yahoo.com
    I've raised chickens for 40 years and have found that they train easier than dogs. I had a Rhode Island Red rooster that would walk with me to the mailbox, which is 500ft for the house. My neighbor, who trained dogs, said "that rooster heels better than any dog I've trained". He was easy to train. He liked being with me and just walked right next to me no problem.
  5. ErniesFlock
    This is awesome bro! I never imagined they would learn to know a name but hell yeah they do. Even ol Shelley who wont let me touch her will come a runnin to see me if I call her. Sometimes I test them as I sit and watch them in the coop and Ill say each ones name and most of the time when I say their name they shake their head like a twitch. "Bigfoot pretty girl" and Bigfoot will shake her head really fast like a split second. They all do it. Speaking of Bigfoot she has a Silkie mop on her she be running into trees or in the opposite direction sometimes. Gets lost etc. So since summer started I give her a haircut started out with bangs only but now I have this Platinum Blonde Circa 1984 Ultra Mullet man it is bad ***. Ill have to post a pic. She actually loves the sound of the clippers she close her eyes and away I go :)
  6. LestersFlat
    My free-range girls have always gone back in their coop at night all by themselves, without any coaxing. I just have to go out when it starts getting dark and close the door behind them. I will however, try your training methods to get my bad girls and boys to stop going in the neighbor's barn and yard, and especially to call them back from the edge of the 55-mile-per-hour road where they like to wander. They have never gone in the road (that I know of) but I have seen them a few times too close to the road for my comfort! Thank you for a great article! Everyone I have talked to around here says that chickens are "birdbrains". I have always believed they are much smarter than that.
  7. tmasker
    To get our chickens in their correct coops, we always put them back in the same order. Shaking a container of bird seed is a sure way to get all the chickens in easily. I always yell "Buck, Buck!" while shaking the container. Works all the time! Oh, and our chickens will do tricks for mealworms!
  8. Anne Katherine
    Can you train older hens as well?
  9. Babecknmama
    This is so true!!! I let my flock of silkies out of their covered pens to eat grass and scratch in our pasture. I sit with them because of the hawks we have in our area. When I want them to go back into their pens, I keep repeating "Time to go up!"
    and clap my hands and they all run back into the pen. I started doing this several years ago not realizing at that time that I was 'training' them. I also have a much loved silkie with a crooked beak--her name is Cuckoo Beak. She knows her name and comes running when I call her name because she learned to associate her name with feeding time, just as you said to do in the article. Chickens are intelligent creatures. Some more affectionate and responsive than others. Thanks for a great article!
  10. Dook
    All my grown chickens were hatched and raised by me, so they didn't take long to realise I was the 'food provider' =) The chicken who have names, know it and come when called....but we have two 'twins' exactly the same pattern whom we call the naughty twins "Missys" for mischief. We think they have 1 or 2 extra points of IQ and get into all sorts of trouble, but aren't very good at being told what to do or being called. =P
    They know the word "AH!" means no, you can't go in there, and they wont. and if told to get out from somewhere, they do =)

    Our pekins are skittish and only come for food or running away from the older chickens. But they were hatched from a broody chook, who seems to have taught them to peck and run away!
      OrgFutureFarms likes this.

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