Chickens may not be able to do calculus, but they aren’t complete dummies. They are very keen on a number of ways to find food and especially when that food is “treats”. My mother posted a picture of my dad walking the hens back to their coop the other night like the Pied Piper leading the rats out of town. Dad has his own treat song he sings to the chickens, and they know it. When they hear that call, they run to the coop. Mom and Dad live way out of town, their nearest neighbor almost a mile down the road. Our little homestead, however, is not so isolated. We have about 3 acres a little ways outside city limits, and we have neighbors. And those neighbors have dogs. This is why we have decided that while we live here, our hens and roos will be coop and yard chickens. We want them to be as safe as possible, and we are doing everything we can and then some to make sure they are fat, sassy spoiled chickens that don’t have to worry about predators. But the inevitable will happen; a chicken will escape. At some point a chicken is going to decide the grasshoppers are greener on the other side of the fence, and they are going to make a break for it. We devised a plan to make any runaway chicken come running home.
One of my favorite things about helping my parents plant their garden every spring is the Buff Orpingtons. They will sit either right by you or in a lap while you weed, and grab things they want to eat, like grubs and root nodes. And that’s what I wanted from my own chickens when we started our flock; friendly, sweet chickens that don’t mind people and like to get attention. Every day since we brought home our new chicks, I get a handful of mealworms, put my hand down in the brooder, and call Chick Chick Chick. I try to replicate the sound a rooster makes when he has found a tasty morsel that he thinks the hens would enjoy as closely as possible. It didn’t take long for them to associate the call and the hand in the brooder with treats. They come running. Now, we will reach into the brooder to fill a food bowl or replace the water, and they expect treats. They come when I call them.
A couple of days ago, I took them outside in one of the large dog crates to scratch around in the grass and check out nature. When I brought them back in, I had no good way of getting them out of the crate without grabbing for them, which would scare them, but also might hurt a wing. So I opened the door, and called, “Chick! Chick! Chick!”. They followed me out of the crate and into the living room where I was able to gently pick everyone up and put them back in their brooder.
A couple of the chickens even like sitting with us. Ripley likes sci fi movies, Penny enjoys a nap, and Hodor, well, she just likes to be held. My mother says I spoil my chickens, but I can’t figure out what harm that could do. Unless you list a chicken running into the house to lay her eggs on the couch as a problem.
Whether you have a handful of laying hens or a big group roaming around your property, eventually you may want to have chickens that come when you call them. It is essential that when they are small, you handle them every day. We spread wings, look at toes, and check fluffy butts for crusted vents, all to ensure that our chickens are in good health and also that they don’t mind being handled. We call them and reward them with treats daily. We make sure that they know our voices and are comfortable with us, which is a must every day. Now that our new bunch of mail order chicks are here, we will go through all the same steps with them. The first week we will keep handling to a minimum as they get adjusted to their home. I have started offering chick feed in my hand, however, as food is always a good incentive to visit your human. At least that’s what the older chickens tell me. Leave me a comment and let me know how you call your chickens.