Did you know you can train chickens? Chickens are actually very intelligent animals. One British study shows they are smarter than human toddlers! Within hours of hatching, chicks can already keep track of numbers up to five. They also exhibit the knowledge that even when an object is out of sight it still exists (which humans don’t understand for 7-8 months!).
Adult hens show a basic understanding of structural engineering and the ability to navigate using the sun’s position. Chickens can recognize their flock members by distinguishing facial features and have complex language to communicate with each other. They can also remember at least 100 different human faces (especially the nice ones that feed them!). They have strong social connections, can show empathy, teach their babies about the world, and mother hens even “talk” to their babies before they hatch. These are no “bird brains”! So it should be of no surprise they can be trained just like you would the family dog.
I have seen fun videos of people training their chickens to run obstacle courses or solve puzzle games. But the most important thing you can train your flock to do is to come back from free-ranging in the yard. Chickens will naturally “come home to roost” around dusk, but sometimes you need them home earlier than that. Training chickens is just like training a dog with a clicker. You need them to associate a sound with a reaction from them which garners a positive reward.
The best thing to use when training chickens is mealworms. They will pretty much do anything you want with mealworms on the line! I got a cute little bell that I mounted on my coop that I intended to use for calling the chickens home. I would ring the bell and toss worms on the ground where they could see them. I would continue ringing the bell as they ate the worms so they would associate the bell with eating mealworms. Make sure that everyone gets some treats so that even the girls on the bottom of the pecking order have a reason to come when called. I repeated this every day, it took just a few days before they caught on.
But then the chickens decided they didn’t need all the jazz of a fancy bell with a rooster on it. Before I could ring the bell, I needed to open the metal feed container to get the mealworms out. After about a week, they knew that feed bin rattling meant worms and they would come stampeding toward me before I got anywhere near the bell!
It’s been years since we trained that first flock to come back at the sound of the lid rattling, the older birds have taught the younger birds as they joined the family. Chickens are flock animals, when they see a couple of members of the flock running towards or away from something the rest are going to follow suit. I continue to provide the positive reinforcement of worms when they come sometimes, but not every time. They will come running regardless.
You don’t need a fancy bell, or even a metal can. You can train them to come to a vocal sound as well. Pick a sound different than your normal talking voice that you want to be the call. Use that sound when conditioning them with the treats and only then.
Completely unintentional but our chickens also have been “trained” to the sound of our back door slider opening. If they are in their enclosed run and they hear the slider, they all run to the door of the enclosure hoping I am coming to let them out or feed them. If they are out in the yard, I can expect a stampede of chickens running to greet me hoping I have some food scraps in hand. But in either event, they have learned the sound of the slider opening means a human friend is coming 🙂
Here’s a video of my girls in action!
Wednesday 5th of October 2022
My girls had to be different. Delawares good at foraging they said. This really means lovesto escape & explore. As pullets one would fly over a 6 ft. fence.. Other learned to push under it. They wandered the neighborhood.,scaring the heck out of us when we noticed them gone. They do come running for mealworms too. My call is d to cluck like mama.
Wednesday 12th of October 2022
lol those sneaky girls! Some birds are just more difficult to contain. I have an Easter Egger that is just constantly flying over any fence we have. We trim the ends of her flight feathers on one side and that has stopped her for the most part, but I definitely still find her outside of the fenced area sometimes. But she always comes running for mealworms!
Saturday 11th of September 2021
Without me knowing it, my chickens all got trained to come to me and follow me back to their run after they had their daily romp in the pasture. They hear my voice and they come running.
Monday 13th of September 2021
They are really a lot smarter than people give them credit for!
Wednesday 15th of April 2020
I’m looking into getting ducks, and I have found your site to be the go to for information. Every article is very well-written with great pictures. I rate your site #1 on the topic. That being said, I do have a question related to this article... Do you know if this training method will work for ducks too?
Wednesday 15th of April 2020
Thanks Brian!! Yes, this will definitely work with ducks too - my ducks all come running when they hear the feed bin rattle or when I shake the meal worm bag
Friday 23rd of August 2019
Can you train them to stay on your property
Friday 23rd of August 2019
Unfortunately not without fencing. Chickens don't respect property lines. You can put up a chicken wire or cattle panel fence around their free range area to keep them contained fairly inexpensively. 4 feet high is enough to keep *most* chickens contained, with just the occasional escapee that will be determined to jump the fence
Sunday 28th of January 2018
Great article, I'm going to do this with my chooks. How would you go about training them not to dig up your garden though? My husband wont let them out of the run because they tear everything up. And we both want to let them out. That's why we got them. :(
Monday 11th of March 2019
for my flower bed i've placed small chicken wire over the soil then pile mulch on top. But fencing the vegetable garden is a must as someone already mentioned.
Monday 29th of January 2018
Unfortunately you can’t train instincts out of them. Freshly dug dirt has all the best bugs to eat. The only way to stop them is to put a fence around you garden. It doesn’t have to be fancy, simple chicken wire 2-3 feet tall will stop everyone but the most determined. My fence is 4 feet tall and none of my chickens have ever made it over