How I Trained My Chickens
Would you believe my chickens are potty trained, stay in the yard without a fence, and clean out their own coop?
No???? Well good because those type of chicken skills are way beyond my reach and I’m pretty sure next to impossible. However, I have been able to successfully train my chickens to coop up at an early age and go in their pen whenever I need them to.
First a little back story. We live on a small lot in a subdivision in a tourist town. Although we live in a developed area we have many predators. These predators have become very ballsy due to the development of their land, and they are in search of food or Rottweiler puppy food. The predators we face here (Coastal SC) are; Fox, Opossums, Raccoon’s, Hawks, Cats, Dogs, Owls, and Snakes (just to name a few), and they all want my chicken for dinner!
Continue reading to see how I trained my chickens
I knew early on in our chicken husbandry we wanted happy free roaming chickens. I mean what is the sense of raising chickens if you’re going to keep them cooped up? Just buy your eggs/chicken from a store and save yourself time and money, right? I have read enough post on Facebook and horror stories on the internet that I knew I had to supervise their free range time if I wanted to keep them alive long enough to collect eggs. So we decided to free range only when supervised to help ensure the safety of our flock.
I am blessed to be allowed to be a stay at home mom so I can let them free range often but I do have responsibilities that take me away from the home frequently. I was hugely concerned what to do with the chickens when I have to leave, how would I get them in the coop/run ? Would I let them out on the days I have errands? Sometimes I have to leave quick and I really don’t want to chase chickens all over the yard before I go. Nor do I want to leave them out and come home to a bunch of dead or missing chickens. What to do? I don’t think Cesar Millan’s talents cover poultry.
Chicken training 101
I received my chicks when they were 3 days old. Precious cute little chirping puffs of yellow and black. It was easy to control them when they were in the house. Rapidly, the cute little chirping balls of fluff turned into large, stinking, ugly, dusty, small size chickens and had to go outside for my sanity and the sanity of my husband. It was already 80+ degrees outside and the chickens had most of their feathers so we decided to move to the coop. They were in chicken heaven with the extra space and all wanted to be top dog in the pecking order.
For three days I kept them locked in their coop with food and water to get them used to their new home. On the third day I let them have access to their run (completely enclosed) and still kept food and water in both coop and run. For one week at dusk hubby and I gathered all the chickens and placed in their coop for the night and locked the pop door. We keep the coop completely locked up tight at night to protect our flock from predators. One night I forgot to lock up the chickens before dusk and went out there with a flashlight, to my surprise, they were all cooped up on their own! It made me wonder if I would have waited a little longer during that first week if they would have gone in the coop without my help? If I was to offer advice about this I would suggest helping your chickens go into the coop for 2-3 nights just before dusk then carefully watch from a distance to see if they go in without your assistance. Some learn quicker than others. I think we were cooping them up too early and the sun needed to go down more before they wanted to call it a night.
All too soon found out one of our ‘hens’ was a roo when he started cock-a-doodle-doing at 8 weeks of age! As heartbroken as I was to get rid of him he did an amazing job at keeping all of the girls inline while he was here. If one hen wouldn’t go in the coop, he would come out and chase her into the coop for the night. If you are blessed to have the ability to raise roosters, they may do the work for you. We had to find our rooster a new home because of our city ordinances but I was sad to see him go.
At this time we were still working on our fence for the free range portion of our yard so the chickens remained in their run and coop for three weeks before having access to the world outside of their confines. For growing chickens, their run was more than sufficient for space and play. They have about 10sq ft per chicken, play toys, perches, feed, water, snacks, mirror, etc. to keep them happy and healthy. As they grew I would walk out daily to give them an age appropriate treats. Soon the chickens began to associate my presence in their coop with treat time. When I knew it was time to let them out to free range I bought a bag of dehydrated meal worms to start using for treat time. I did this for a couple of reasons: 1) they love meal worms 2) to get them used to scratching for bugs 3) to use as a training tool to get them to go into their run/coop. I put a handful of meal worms in a paper/plastic cup (something that makes a lot of noise when you shake the worms) and when I got close to the coop I started shaking the cup to make noise then I sprinkled some worms on the ground. I did this for three days prior to letting out to free range. On the fourth day I let them out and stayed with them for a couple of hours.
Talk about free entertainment! The chickens quickly let me know my landscaping designs and plantings were not up to their liking and decided to rearrange everything. When it was time for me to leave, I got the cup of the worms, stood in their coop and started shaking. It took all of three minutes to get all the girls (15 of them) in the run! I have done this several times a day (getting them to go into their run so I can leave) and it works every time.
Do you notice anything here? Completely unintentional the number 3 seems to works for them, 3 days, 3 weeks. Not sure why but 3 is the magic number for my girls, your girls might have another magic number.
Several months later I don’t even have to use the worms, now I just stand in their run and they all come in. I never show up empty-handed though because I feel guilty the way they look at me with the ‘where’s my treat’ anticipation and I want to keep my girls happy. To this day they have complete access to 1/2 of our property and always stay within 60 feet of their coop.
I’m sure there are many different treats or food scraps you can use to achieve the same results but the worms worked for me. To order meal worms or to see the ones we buy click here (affiliate link)
Do you have a chicken training tip or trick you would like to share ?