Sunday, May 4, 2014

Homing chickens

I've read several places that if you want your free-range chickens to come "home" to the coop at night, that you need to lock them in their coop for 3-days or so, sometimes longer, and they will learn that this is where they belong at night.

This theory worked "OK" for our ISA Browns, (raised from chicks) but I've developed my own theory for homing the chickens.

Yes, I use the "lock up" method initially when getting new chickens.  But I also go a couple steps further. 

  • I talk to them while bringing them into the barn for the night.  I make a specific call when I am bringing them in for the night vs. just talking to them throughout the day. 
    • In many ways it's a lot like calling the pigs in to be slopped, or calling the cows in to be milked.  The flock will actually follow you to their coop instead of needing to chase them down, or wait until they all "roost" and fall asleep to gather them in.
  • I put them away/feed them at the same times every single day, in a specific location.  They don't get fed any grain or scraps anywhere else, aside from what they can scratch out while free-ranging.
    • Chickens have small brains, but if you feed them at the same times every day, they put two & two together and remember "Oh!  When that crazy lady comes out she is going to bring food!  Let's follow her!"
    • If I carry a bucket of table scraps/garbage down to the barn with me while calling them, they are much more likely to follow me.  Some even go so far as to try to snitch scraps from the bucket as I'm walking.

I've found this method works nearly every time.  The only time it doesn't is when one of them gets a major attitude and isn't quite ready to go back to their coop.

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