How to Train Chickens to Come When Called
Chicken Training Doesn’t have to be About Silly Tricks
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Can you train chickens? The short answer is yes. And while some may think this is a silly concept, it can literally be a life saver for your flock. It doesn’t have to be about training chickens to go through obstacle courses; although that is fun. For the everyday backyard chicken keeper learning how to train chickens to come when called is about making sure your chickens see you as the flock leader and will respond to you if necessary.
To illustrate this point, I hope you’ll indulge me in a story. My first backyard chicken flock was 19 strong and I loved going outside each afternoon to offer them a special treat.
My last memory of them happy and healthy was during this afternoon treat. Only a few hours later, after leaving them roaming in our fenced backyard, my husband came home and asked why he just saw a dead White Leghorn on the driveway. I ran outside and was horrified to see a pack of dogs had gotten into our fenced backyard and attacked my flock.
After I took stock of the dead birds that lay scattered in my yard, I quickly realized there were some missing. I didn’t think they were dead since I didn’t see their bodies, and I realized they must be hiding. How could I get them to come to me even though I was sure they were scared, traumatized and maybe even hurt? It took a second, since I was traumatized myself, but I realized I could probably use my snack and feeding routine. It would be a familiar routine in a troubled time. So I grabbed a bucket, filled it with feed and then called for my chickens in the same way I did each day. It worked! My chickens slowly came out of hiding and started eating their treat. It was then I realized I had trained chickens living in my backyard and I was grateful. At the time, I didn’t realize how I had trained my first flock, but I learned why as my flock grew and changed through the years.
So if you’re wondering how to train chickens, it’s really just a matter of understanding how chickens communicate and how we communicate with them. Chickens are flock animals. They interact together all day and stay together as a group to keep safe from predators. You need to be seen as a member of their flock and hopefully someone high in the pecking order. Chickens are visual and they’re verbal. Plus they like food. The way I communicate with them is the way they communicate with each other.
For me I have kept the same routine with all my flocks as I used with my first flock, this starts when my backyard chickens are baby chicks. I give them the same greeting each time I visit them and then I talk to them during our time together. I also like to put some food in my hand and let them eat out of it. (In case you’re wondering, chick starter is what to feed chickens.)
How to Train Chickens with a Feeding Routine
As the chicks grow and move to the backyard, I keep up the same routine. I greet them the same way each day. When I give them treats, like mealworms and wheat bread, I use the same wording and cadence to call them. Even if they’ve seen me and are already heading toward me, I still use my wording. I always say “here chickens, here chickens.”
This is the same way chickens communicate with each other. Think about a rooster. When he finds a great treat to share with his hens, he vocalizes so the hens hear him and know to join him. He uses the same vocalization every time. Chickens are smart. They start to understand our language and what it means to them. The repetition reinforces the learning.
This is entirely different than training your backyard dog. For that, you are seen as the dominant pack member and the dog receives a reward for obeying. For chickens, you’re a flock member and you’re communicating with them. The treat is just that, a treat and not a reward.
If you adopt older chickens, this technique still works. If you already have a flock in place and you’re adding to it, the adopted chickens will learn quickly by observing how the existing flock interacts with you. They’ll simply join the flock’s routine. If the adopted chickens are your only flock, then just start with this type of routine from day one. They’ll soon see you as a trusted member of the flock.
If you want to train your chickens for obstacle courses and other fun tricks, remember that it’s not as much about the food treat, it’s about consistency with communicating. You can use verbal, visual and food affirmations to help your chickens respond in the way you’d like them to respond.
So, can you train a chicken to come to you? Yes. It’s never too late to start and you never know when you’ll need it. Let us know in the comments below if you’ve had success with training techniques.
One thought on “How to Train Chickens to Come When Called”
When I raised my ducklings, I took them treats each evening at last check and rang a cowbell while crooning “pretty birds” in cadence to them, or whistling the same tones. When the were moved to their pen in the pasture, I continued the routine. When I finally let them go to the pond and free range, they didn’t come in the first two evenings and I knew they wouldn’t last long. But the third evening they responded and have done so since. Operant conditioning theory really does work!