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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching Hens to Come

Garden chickens
Free range hens

One thing that can be scary is allowing your chickens out into the big wide world while you wonder if they’ll ever go back to their secure pen ever again. I spent six weeks in preparation for their first big outing.

After bringing my girls home the first thing I did was start training them to come when called. There are no real shortcuts around the fact that you need to put in substantial time to achieve this. I work 9-5 Monday to Friday, and as it is currently Winter this means that for 5 days out of 7 I would have only 10-15 minutes to spare in the mornings as they would be asleep by the time I would get home. Even so, I would spent that time hand feeding them and seeing who would let me touch tails before spreading their days food out and heading off to work.

On weekends I had more time to spare and could spend an hour with them hanging out in the pen. The way to a hen’s heart really is through her stomach. I would try to always remember to take some food with me and allow them to get used to me being around. One exercise we would do is for me to wait for them to ignore me, and then with a handful of food, call them over. "Chook, chook, chook!" Some repetition will teach them that your voice means "come quick! I have food!"

On days that you plan to let them free range don’t feed them their normal meal so they are nice and hungry. Then when you are ready to put them away, get their attention and call them as you have been training. Mine followed me straight back into the pen!

Also remember that chickens can get quite airborne. Mine could fly as high as our fences as evidenced by them getting onto the roof of their coop, so we decided to clip their wings a week before we allowed them to free range just in case anyone got any escape ideas.

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