Training a Chicken or Turkey to Come When Called
Important Tips for Keeping Turkeys and Chickens Safe if they Get Loose or Are in Danger
Dogs and dolphins aren’t the only animals you can train to come when called. Almost any mammal will “come” for food … even backyard chickens and turkeys. Here are some simple steps to training a chicken or turkey.
1) As soon as you get your chicks, say the same thing, in the same way, every time you greet them.
You may already be doing this when you check on them each morning. I accidentally got in the habit of saying, “Hey, chickadoos!” to my little chicks and “Hi, turkens!” when I checked on the turkeys. Yes, I am the insane person raising turkeys and chatting with them over morning coffee. But giving the same greeting each day let the birds know I’m coming which leads to the second step.
2) Show up with food or treats every time you visit with your flock.
I’m not entirely sure about poultry showing affection for humans, but I am 100 percent confident that any animal will show up for food. If you and food are synonymous, your backyard chickens and flock will always be happy to see you.
2b) Use the same container for bringing food.
We use a series of stainless steel buckets to bring kitchen scraps to the backyard chicken pen. Since we use the same thing every time, the girls will come running seeing a shiny bowl of any kind.
3) Combine steps one and two.
You are saying the same thing in the same way with food every time you see your birds. When you call out your greeting they hear it as a call for food. They see you, or your shiny bowl, and know good things are about to happen. Congratulations. You are a backyard chicken rockstar and your poultry fans should flock to you.
It won’t take long for your birds to just run toward you on sight or, if they can’t see you, to run toward the sound of your greeting. I use this when our birds are free ranging and I need to get them into the pen. No matter whether I’m raising chickens for eggs or meat, some are more apt to wander than others.
This fall our girls have gotten into the bad habit of jumping the fence to range in the woods next to the house. Each morning they fly out and spend a few hours ranging around in the fallen leaves. At about noon they all come back to the fence. I think they’re looking for some easy access to feed for their lunch. They spend a significant portion of the afternoon running along the sides of the fence trying to get back in. Eventually they give up and head back to the woods to range for the rest of the day. When it starts to get dark out they panic if no one has come to open the fence and start to roost on whatever is available. The lawn mower, the rails of the deck, I’ve even caught one perched on a gutter. But I can go out there and call them and they all come running back.
If they’ve scattered after a predator attack and I need to get them back home coming when called is the best training you can offer. One year we raised some heritage turkey breeds. Those birds loved to fly! Every day they would fly over the fence and roost in the trees, but I could get them back each night by calling them. Eventually the neighbor’s dog figured out their plan and, after they’d jumped the fence, tried to hunt them down. They scattered far and wide and I panicked thinking I’d have to refund all of our Thanksgiving sales. Fortunately I wandered around the surrounding area doing my call and they all came back. They ALL came back. It was no different than calling for a lost dog and I was relieved they all made it back safely. Try it out using your own greeting. Hopefully yours will be more professional sounding than mine!
Do you have anything to add to this list of training a chicken or turkey tips?