Gardening with Free-Range Chickens For Dummies
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Chickens can be trained. They have keen eyesight and are extremely motivated by their desire to eat. Training your chickens is key to effectively managing your chicken flock. By training your flock, you can have them come to you whenever you like, herd them along if necessary, and generally have them respond and behave for you as you wish.

Training works better with smaller-sized flocks of fewer than ten chickens. The more chickens in a flock, the harder it is to manage them.

You certainly don’t have to train your chickens; however, it will be harder to manage them when you want them to return to the coop, come away from an area, and when there is danger in the garden. Have you heard of the expression “unruly as herding cats?" Herding untrained chickens is like trying to herd cats!

It helps to establish a routine with your chicken flock. Your chickens like routine and a set schedule. Open their coop about the same time in the morning, put out their feed bucket, clean their manure box, collect eggs, let them out to free-range, and close them up at night about the same time each day and night.

How to teach your chickens to come to you

As your chicks grow into full-feathered young pullets, you can introduce them to treats and training. You can choose a distinct whistle, bell, or what we prefer, an inexpensive pet clicker from pet discount stores.

Having the ability to call your flock to the chicken coop in a free-ranging situation is invaluable. Training your chickens is simply rewarding their good behavior with food when they do exactly what you ask them to do. They’ll associate the sound of the pet clicker, a certain phrase you repeat, a whistle, or whatever you choose, with a reward or some type of food.

Training takes time and requires some patience. You can start the training wherever you’re most comfortable. It can be in the outside pen, in the garden, or while they’re free-ranging. It’s important to note that if your chickens have already had a lot of food or have recently been let out to free-range, they may not be tuned in to training.

Here are some steps to teach your chickens to come on command:

  1. Stand in view of your flock, holding their favorite treats in your hand at their eye level.

    Try a treat your chickens like but don’t have all the time — like a warm roll, fresh cranberries, or sunflower seeds. Choose a treat you know they love.

  2. Wait for the dominant hen in your flock, or the best forager, to see the treats in your hand and come running to you.

    The rest of the flock will follow.

  3. While your chickens are eating out of your hand, click your pet clicker or make your signal.

    Click your pet clicker to make a consistent noise or signal, and use that consistent signal. This noise will be the signal for your flock to come to you when they hear it.

  4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 over and over every day and consistently over a period of time.

    This step re-enforces that the chickens receive a treat for coming to you, and your flock will eventually catch on to come to you when you use your clicker.

    Eventually, the chickens will come to see you, without hearing a clicker, when you appear in your garden or property. This training makes life much easier for returning them to their chicken coop or just checking on them.

You can also train chickens to fly to your arm, walk across elevated ladders, count items, or other fun and easy tricks you may have in mind. It is the same concept of a signal and a reward, repeated over and over. Use a different signal so as not to confuse with the “come” command.

How to herd your chickens

Herding is another behavior to teach a young flock. Because chickens usually move around in a unit together, herding them is fairly easy. Suppose you forget your clicker and you need to herd your flock back to the coop. Here are the steps you can use:
  1. Align yourself behind your flock and gently clap your hands together.

    A small gentle clap is much more effective than a loud clap. Your flock starts moving in a formation toward the direction or destination you want to go.

  2. If your flock starts veering off target, use your arms as guiding rudders; use a single arm stretched out, in the direction they’re veering toward.

    They’ll see your outstretched arm and adjust to the direction you’re herding them to.

This is a very simple method of herding. Increase its effectiveness by starting this herding technique when your flock is young. Be consistent, and they’ll understand the herding concept.

Sometimes one member of your flock breaks out of the herd formation and takes another direction quickly. If you’re quick to respond with an arm to adjust the direction, you can usually bring all your chickens into a herd formation moving forward once again. Herding works best in small-size flocks under ten chickens.

Dogs are great at herding chickens, too, but make sure you can trust your dog not to harm them.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Bonnie Jo Manion has been featured in national garden magazines with her gardens, organic practices, chickens, and designs. Follow Bonnie at Rob Ludlow is the owner of, a top source on chicken raising, and the coauthor of Raising Chickens For Dummies.

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