Training chickens for part-time free range?

Izzyisdizzy11

Chirping
Jan 25, 2021
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I have two ISA Brown pullets that are about 3 weeks from laying, and I am currently keeping them in a pretty small coop all day. I am planning on allowing them to 'free range' around my backyard after they start laying and their wings are clipped. Is there any way that I can get my chickens back into their coop other than picking them up? They're not fans of being picked up and I can see them escaping through under the fence and running into the vineyard. Could there be a certain treat that they only get when they're back in the coop? How would I go about associating the treat with coming back? I know that's a lot of questions but any advice would be fine :).
 

Shadrach

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I have two ISA Brown pullets that are about 3 weeks from laying, and I am currently keeping them in a pretty small coop all day. I am planning on allowing them to 'free range' around my backyard after they start laying and their wings are clipped. Is there any way that I can get my chickens back into their coop other than picking them up? They're not fans of being picked up and I can see them escaping through under the fence and running into the vineyard. Could there be a certain treat that they only get when they're back in the coop? How would I go about associating the treat with coming back? I know that's a lot of questions but any advice would be fine :).
Food usually works and after that habit.
If your hens have been living just in their coop for a while they should associate this as home.
Buy a few tins of fish, haddock is often cheap and tinned. Drain any oil/water/brine from the tin.
Find a plastic containor, red is a good colour if you can find one but what matters most is you only use this containor to put the fish or other treat food in.
You need to be very strict about this.
For two or three nights feed them a very small amount of the fish/treat food from the containor. Make sure that your hens can see you taking the food from the containor when you feed them.
Feed them from this containor just before they show signs of goiing to roost whille they are still in the coop.
Do this for two or three days.
When you first let them out, do it an hour or so before dusk/roost time. You need to stay with them while you do this.
When you want them to go back into the coop; they will probably head towads the coop at dusk anyway, show them the containor and when they arrive at the coop herd them in and give them some of the treat food.

Anothher more secure method is to make a temporary fence outside the coop and let them roam in this area initially; like a large run. As they get used to going back into the coop you can remove the fence.

Ime, most chicken will return to their coop at dusk anyway. The danger is that when free ranging, especially if they are new to it that they may get stuck somewhere.
 

Izzyisdizzy11

Chirping
Jan 25, 2021
34
124
74
Food usually works and after that habit.
If your hens have been living just in their coop for a while they should associate this as home.
Buy a few tins of fish, haddock is often cheap and tinned. Drain any oil/water/brine from the tin.
Find a plastic containor, red is a good colour if you can find one but what matters most is you only use this containor to put the fish or other treat food in.
You need to be very strict about this.
For two or three nights feed them a very small amount of the fish/treat food from the containor. Make sure that your hens can see you taking the food from the containor when you feed them.
Feed them from this containor just before they show signs of goiing to roost whille they are still in the coop.
Do this for two or three days.
When you first let them out, do it an hour or so before dusk/roost time. You need to stay with them while you do this.
When you want them to go back into the coop; they will probably head towads the coop at dusk anyway, show them the containor and when they arrive at the coop herd them in and give them some of the treat food.

Anothher more secure method is to make a temporary fence outside the coop and let them roam in this area initially; like a large run. As they get used to going back into the coop you can remove the fence.

Ime, most chicken will return to their coop at dusk anyway. The danger is that when free ranging, especially if they are new to it that they may get stuck somewhere.
Thanks so much Shadrach! I'll stick to your advice 👍
 

Isadora

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Mar 29, 2021
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Ime, most chicken will return to their coop at dusk anyway.
I second this. Chickens have a strong instinct to go back to the coop to bed down for the night, so letting them out only an hour or so before dusk is a way to use that in your favor.
Are your girls flighty or pretty docile? If they're all hanging around the coop before bed but haven't quite gone it yet, gently shooing them toward the door usually works well, as long as the door is large enough. I've noticed they would rather run a completely opposite direction if the pop door is the only other option. My thought was they don't like being forced through a smaller opening.
 

Izzyisdizzy11

Chirping
Jan 25, 2021
34
124
74
Thanks for the tips Isadora!
I second this. Chickens have a strong instinct to go back to the coop to bed down for the night, so letting them out only an hour or so before dusk is a way to use that in your favor.
Yes, I have heard that the chickens generally go back to the coop at dusk, and I'll definitely try to use this to my advantage. The only problem is that here in Australia right now it's mosquito season, so I'll have to apply a lot of mozzie repellent!
 

Ridgerunner

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I basically agree with what Shadrach and the others said, just a bit of a twist.

Is there any way that I can get my chickens back into their coop other than picking them up?
If they can and are used to the coop as a place to sleep they should want to go back there to sleep around dark. There can always be exceptions but mine usually desperately want to return to where they are used to sleeping. When I first let them out to range occasionally one or some will get caught behind a fence so they can't get back no matter how hard they try. They forget all about that gate 10' away that they have been using all day they are so fixated on going straight to the coop. So always be out there around dark in case they need help at first. Usually after a couple of nights of helping them they figure out the gate concept.

It can be hard to get them to go into the coop during the day, especially if they are not in a run. Food is a great bribe and as useful in training chickens as it is in training dogs. It doesn't have to be fish, anything hey consider a treat works. You can use a container (always the same container) and put a treat in it. Grain works well. Shake that container so they can hear the treat rattling around as you feed it to them and chant something, like "here chicky chick". Be consistent and always give them a treat when you do that. Get them in the habit of getting the treat in the coop. Pretty soon they'll come running whenever they see the container, hear the rattle, or hear your chant. If you don't do something like this, getting them in the coop during the day can be a pain.

I have a run I can lock them in if I don't want them free ranging. When I first let them out of the coop I keep them in that run until I'm confident they will put themselves to sleep inside that coop before I give them greater freedom. I don't know that you need a run but I find mine helpful for different reasons.
 

Shadrach

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Thanks so much Shadrach! I'll stick to your advice 👍
It may seem a bit of an overkill. As others have mentioned they will probably go to the coop to roost without any encouragement.
The getting them to associate the red box, or whatever colour you choose, with lovely grub, may just be enough to get them within grabbing range in the event of some emergency.

Edit.
I see Ridgerunner has this covered above.
 

Ascholten

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Dec 12, 2020
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If they been in / with the coop for a few days, they typically associate it as home. When it gets dark out they will go back in for the night.

If you are letting them out for an hour or so, I did this for a while here, I also used this as my interaction time, pet / snuggle / tail tug etc with them. I also used it as snack time.

Open the coop let them out, once they are out, have a small treat in your hand, and click your tongue, say a word or make a sound, something to associate with the treat, click and then feed them the treats. Now they will associate this sound with a snack. usually only takes them a few days to learn this too.

When you need them inside BEFORE dark, simply make the click sound, they come running, throw the food snack INTO the coop, let them see you do that, they will all run in after the snack, close the door, chickens corralled.

if you want to spend the time with them, this is also a good time to try to bond with them, tame them down a bit too. click / feed, while they are eating out of your hand, pet them, tail tug, ruffle them, talk nice to them, eventually leading to pick them up, pet them hug them, whatever.

At this point, I just bend over, click, hold out a tiny scrap of food and just reach down and grab the girl i need and carry her over to the pen and plop her inside.

It can be done for most birds but will take a little time up front to get them tamed down and used to you..... and the magic food sound.

Aaron
 

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