My free-range flock was at it again. They left the cozy acreage of our farm, and went to visit the neighbors. I could see them digging around the neighbor’s yard, looking for bugs, and contemplating what good things might be lurking on their back porch.
My neighbors are very nice and understanding, but I didn’t want them to be upset about having a flock of chickens hanging around on their back porch. Technically, my chickens were trespassing!
I was prepared for this, of course. So I stepped outside, and called to our rooster, “Elvis, come home!” Elvis perked up his head, looked around, and made a beeline for me, beckoning the hens to follow. And they did.
All of the chickens followed Elvis’s lead and came running as fast as their little hen feet could carry them, back to the safety of our yard and straight to me.
Of course, I rewarded them for coming home with a nice chicken treat. I had a stale loaf of bread just waiting to give to them. They happily clucked and ate, enjoying their treat.
I enjoyed their quick return, and I’m sure my neighbors were happy, too. Training chickens to come when called is worth the little bit of effort that it takes.
I think chickens are a lot smarter than people usually give them credit for. According to thehappychickencoop.com, chickens can learn to recognize as many as a hundred different people. Also, mother hens can teach their babies, and chickens can even teach each other.
They can learn to do tricks for treats and they have a language all their own that they use to communicate with each other. Mother hens will even talk to their eggs, and encourage them when they are hatching. Chickens can learn to recognize each other and even know when someone is missing from their flock.
So if chickens, can do all of this, they can easily learn to come when called. This is a handy practice because:
- You can call them to come to you when they are too close to the neighbor’s precious flowerbeds.
- You could call them to get them out of harm’s way – such as traffic or a stray dog or even a hawk flying overhead.
- You could call your chickens to come for treats, snuggles (if you’re into snuggling your chickens, that is), checkups to make sure they are healthy,
- … or just to show off how cool your chickens are to anyone that’s willing to watch.
It is a lot easier to allow your chickens to free range if you are able to call them back to the coop when you need them to go back in. This means, you can let them out at any part of the day you like – and call them to go back whenever you like. You don’t have to wait for dusk for your chickens to put themselves to bed.
One caveat, if you just let them out, or if you just fed them, they may not be as likely to come right back. It might take a little bit of practice for you and your chickens to find the right balance.
Not only do my chickens come when called, some will even follow the command to “Go to bed, chickens!” This will send them scrambling back to the chicken coop, ready to go inside.
This is especially helpful when I need to put them to bed early, for example if a storm is coming or if I need to go out for the evening.
The newer chickens are still learning the command, but I have no doubt that they will pick it up pretty quickly. They enjoy the safety of the coop and sometimes we put food in there to reinforce what a wonderful place it is to be.
Of course, in order for all of this chicken calling to work well, you have to convince your chickens that they want to come when you call them.
This isn’t hard at all, because most chickens are happy to come running for a good meal. And with a little work, and a lot of fun, you can train your chickens, too.
Patience and consistency, and lots of treats, will make a big difference in helping your chickens learn to come when called. If you are sweet and gentle, they will enjoy the process just as much as you do because of their curious nature, enjoyment of being around humans, and love of good treats!
Here’s what I do to train my chickens to come when called.
Start with a friendly breed of chicken.
Although there are exceptions to every rule, your best chance of getting your chickens to come when called is to start with a breed of chicken that likes to be around people.
For example, Leghorns, fayoumis, and other game-type chickens are pretty skittish, and often don’t enjoy being kept as pets. They might be a little bit harder to train than a friendlier breed of chicken.
Instead, look for a breeds that are known for their friendliness such as silkies, buff orpingtons, wyandottes, and australorps to name a few. These are all breeds that typically like to be around people, are smart, curious, and quite friendly.
Oftentimes, when we are sitting around in the yard, our orpingtons, wyandottes, and silkies will come over just to see what we are doing – and find out if we have any snacks! Our silkies love to meet the kids at the best stop, and follow us around the yard waiting for a few hugs.
Of course, you can find friendly individuals in any breed, but your chances are the best with choosing breeds that are known to be people-pleasing chickens.
The younger you start, the easier it will be to teach your flock to come when called. Over time, as you add more chickens, they’ll learn to come on command from the older birds in the flock. After all, if one chicken is getting a treat, the others are sure to follow so they can have one too!
If you can start with a flock of young chicks, you’ll be in great shape to get them to do what you ask. Spend lots of time with them when they are small, so they get comfortable and attached to you.
Doing this may make them more of a pet than livestock, and that’s ok, although chickens kept as livestock can learn to come when called, as well. Always offer them treats when you hold them, so they associate you with good things.
Never yell at a chicken, scare it, or drop it. Always be gentle and calm so they are comfortable with you and remain friendly.
Remember that chickens do poop – so if you are holding them, they might accidentally poop on you. Wear old clothes, and wash your hands after handling your chickens.
Keep in mind that friendly hens may become temporary grumps when they are broody or have young chicks of their own. Give them as much space as they need, and they’re sure to come around and be friendly again when their babies are more independent.
Sometimes, the sweetest, most loving chickens are the grumpiest moms! This is just the instinct that helps them protect their babies. Don’t take it personally, and everything will be just fine.
Lastly, remember that a rooster’s job is to protect his flock, and if he sees you as a threat, he might try to protect his hens from you. Always give roosters plenty of space and respect. If you have a good rooster who sees you as the one that brings treats, he’ll learn to come when called and help teach his hens to do the same.
Give them names.
If you have a larger flock like I do, you probably won’t name each and every one. Maybe you want to name a few favorites, maybe you want to name them all. Or, maybe you just want to call them collectively, “Chickens.”
We named our rooster, Elvis, and the kids named their favorite hens. But with a flock of 40, there just isn’t time for us to teach each one of them their individual names. Either way is fine – many farmers will call their chickens with a whistle, the shaking of a can of treats, or just calling them ‘chicken.’
The key is to be consistent. A chicken can learn its own name if you want it to, and some folks say chickens can learn other chicken’s names, too. If you have multiple flocks, you could teach each flock to come to its own flock name or call.
Applachia’s Homestead with Patara gives us a great example of how she calls her chickens to come. She uses a special voice and phrase that is specific to her chickens. Even her goats and cows have learned to come to her sweet, unique call. You can check out her video here:
Joe Jackson offers some ideas on how to call your chickens into their coop using a red scoop of treats. He says the red scoop is highly visible to the chickens. He shakes his container of treats, and the chickens see it and come running. You can see his video and ideas right here:
Give them treats.
Treats are the key to your success. Chickens love treats, and they will love you if you give them lots. Every time you give a chicken a treat, say its name or whatever you want to say when you call it.
You’ll want to do this often, several times a day if possible. You can do this when you feed them in the morning, lock them in the coop at night, and just about any time you are walking by your chicken run.
I like to feed our chickens table scraps, so after every meal, when there are leftovers to share, the kids or I will go outside, call them chickens, and feed them the treats. We don’t even need to call them for this – when they hear the back door open, they all come running for something good to eat.
But when you are first training your chicken to come when called, you can add some extra steps for better success. You may want to pick up your chicken, say its name, and then give it a treat. If you are brave, you can feed the chicken right out of your hand.
If you’re worried that it might miss and peck you by mistake, then just feed it on the ground next to you. The key is to be very consistent and do this a lot, just as if you were training a dog to come when called or do a trick.
You may want to pick a treat that your chickens only get when they are responding to you. You might want to give them mealworms, or pumpkin seeds, or something they don’t normally have access to and keep this treat as a reward for even after they are trained.
This will keep the reward ‘special’ and they will be more willing to work for it. However, I found that any old treats or scraps that I had laying around worked just fine, whether it was crusts off my children’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or left-over macaroni and cheese.
You’ll want to avoid foods such as chocolate, moldy food, green potatoes, dried beans, and avocado skins as these things can make your chickens sick. Most table scraps in moderation are just fine for your chickens, though, so don’t be afraid to give them your leftovers.
It is really fun to watch them squabble over a piece of bread or apple peels! Make sure there are plenty of treats to go around, because the dominant hens will get there first, and the more timid and shy hens may not get the treats at all. This will make it harder for them to learn to come on command.
Call their name and reward the when they come.
The next step is to reward them for coming when called. Stand near your chicken, call its name, and give it a treat when it responds.
Over time, increase the distance between you and your chicken when you call her. She’ll continue to associate you with good things, like food, so she’ll enjoy coming to you to get her treat.
Keep practicing until your chicken or chickens has got it down. Once they seem to get the idea, you can call them to different places in the yard, coop, or chicken run to see how they do. You’ll be surprised how fast your chickens will learn their new trick!
Keep rewarding your chickens.
For best results, you will want to reward your chickens every time they come when they are called. This will leave them always wanting more. At the very least, you should reward them intermittently, so they don’t forget that you give them good things when they do what you ask.
As you add new chickens to your flock, you’ll find that it gets easier to train the new chickens. This is because the new birds will easily learn from your original flock, making the process faster and simpler.
Even if you don’t have a need to call your chickens every day, it is a good idea to keep practicing on a regular basis. It’s fun to get the whole family involved and this will help your chickens remember the lessons they worked so hard to learn.
If needed, start again.
If you feel like your chickens have forgotten what they are supposed to do when you call them, don’t worry. Just start the process again. They’ll quickly re-learn to come when you call them.
Sometimes, they just need a little more positive reinforcement to get back in the game. Or maybe you need to up the ante and offer them some more motivating treats.
Tips for Training Chickens
Cackle Hatchery offers a few extra tips on training your chickens to come when called. They explain that eating is a chicken’s primary activity, so offering treats will help them learn faster.
They suggest using scratch grains, meal worms, and even sunflower seeds to train your chickens. Over time, you can substitute less exciting treats, such as leftover bits of apple or pumpkin.
If you are working to train the chickens to go into the coop, make sure you offer the treats inside the coop. If you are training the chickens to come to you, then make sure you give them the treats directly when you call them to come.
Manna Pro also gives some great chicken training tips. They believe that chickens watch and think about what their owners are doing. They’ll learn about your particular patterns and habits just like you learn about theirs.
They have object permanence, which means they know an object is still there even when they can’t see it. This helps them learn more quickly.
Even better, Manna Pro suggests following the lead of the rooster. Since roosters like to ‘tidbit’ or show their ladies where the food is, they recommend doing a little tidbitting yourself. Not only does offering up treats help chickens learn tricks, it also helps them bond with you.
Once your hens learn to come on command, you might want to try some other lessons as well, because chickens can learn other tricks, too. You might try teaching them some fun tricks such as jumping through a hoop, doing a small obstacle course, and even riding the handlebars of a bike. Chickens will do a lot just to get a treat!
Hobbyfarms.com gives us some ideas for training chickens. They like to play Follow the Feeder. They teach their chickens to come when they see the white scratch bucket.
They also teach their chickens to jump by holding their hands outstretched, with a treat in it, just above a chicken’s head, commanding in to jump!
Over time, as the chicken learns to jump on command, you can hold the treat farther away from the chicken to get it to jump higher. And of course, they like to train their chickens to eat right from their hands.
Ready to train your chickens?
The key to training your chickens to come when called is really just patience and consistency, alongside of great treats. A little practice goes a long way to teaching these highly intelligent birds to come when called.
Not only is it helpful for their safety and your convenience, teaching chickens to come when called is a lot of fun, and a nice bonding experience for your family.
Amanda is a homesteader and a Jesus-loving, mother of 6 toddlers. She’s raising lots of fancy chickens and goats on her small homestead (among other things).