Strategies and Tactics to Train Your Chickens
Imagine every time you step into your back yard, your tame chickens happily come running to you as fast as they can, flapping their wings for extra speed. Your chickens want to be around you. At any time you can bend down and pick one up and they are fine with being held and carried around. You have trained your chickens to trust and like you. Congratulations, you are the happy owner of tamed chickens. I've been raising chickens for 30 years and have followed these steps over and over again to turn a normally cautious and skittish animal into a trained animal. Here's how you get there.
Unfortunately, chickens have not been bred for intelligence. They've been bred to lay eggs every 18 hours, grow fast, and survive harsh weather conditions. Their general lack of intelligence, in comparison to pets like dogs, means you need to tap into a more primal aspect of their brain, and this aspect is the food/hunger center of their brain. By causing your chickens to associate you with a safe source of food, your chickens will trust you and be trained to come to you, even if you don't currently have food. These tactics describe how to create and maintain this association.
Believe it or not, chickens have personalities, loosely associated with breed. Some of your chickens will respond better than others to these tactics according to the chickens' individual differences. I've had chickens that not only knew I was a source of food, but knew I got it from the shed. Whenever they heard the shed door open, they would come running to the shed and try to sneak past me to get in the shed. It is still an open question in my mind if the smartest, most tamed chickens are also the greediest, hungriest chickens, or visa versa.
Start at chicks
Choose a few chicks to tame and keep them inside of your house in a box in the normal, recommended environments you can find described in other articles (ie: heat lamp, wood shavings, chick starter food, etc...). Hold the chicks in your hand often with a bit of napkin underneath them in case they poop. The handling and sounds of your house will help them be more comfortable with being picked up and human voices and sounds.
Hold a chick while you are watching television. Set a sleeping chick in your lap while you read a book. Cup a chick in your hand while you are eating dinner. Spend as much time as possible with your chicks. This familiarity between you and them at such a young age will help more any other single tactic.
Feed them by hand
As chicks and as they grow older, feed your tame chickens little treats by hand. I break old wheat bread into pieces and hold the pieces out them. Chickens are not picky eaters. They'll love almost any table scrapes, from breads, pastas, rice, melon, and more.
Feeding your chickens by hand accomplishes two goals. First, they are associating you with food, as mentioned above. Second, they have to get close to you to even get the food, so again your presence is being reinforced as something safe.
To this day, my chickens trust food I hold in my hand more than food on the ground. I found a big nightcrawler worm while gardening and thought I'd give it to my chickens as a treat. When I put the worm on the ground in front of them, the chickens backed up nervously as the worm wiggled around. But when I picked up the worm and held it in my hand, my chickens went wild trying to peck it out of my hand.
As your chickens grow older, and depending on the chicken, you may find that holding food in the palm of your hand can lead to painful pecks. Some chickens will be very delicate and only peck the food. Other chickens will miss the food entirely and peck your hand. As a chick, this is no problem, but as the chicken gets stronger and bigger, I often hold the food out pinched between my fingers so the chickens don't have to aim their pecks as well to miss my hand.
Continue to Spend Regular Time With Them
Regularly spend time near your chickens to maintain and reinforce that your presence is a good thing for them. My family often has picnics in the back yard with the chickens. The chickens love to visit us and accept our handouts. Did you know chickens will eat enchiladas? Activities like yard work, and gardening will also help you be near your chickens. When I mow the lawn, the chickens follow behind me, delighted to scratch and peck through the fresh mulch. Often times I'll read a book outside in a lawn chair. The chickens will happily mill around my feet.
Chickens are rewarding pet and I've written various articles about them because of my love and appreciation for the richness they add to my family. I hope you get started training your chickens soon. For more chicken related articles check out: