This blog is not for experts. Experts would know better than to do any of the things that I’ve done. For those who are thinking about keeping chickens, this might be a good place to start, learn from my mistakes.
I’ve never had chickens before. It seemed like all my friends had grown up with them and knew all about them. I was going in completely blind with no preparation.
It only took one day, and I quickly learned chicken keeping secret #1 : Teach your chickens to come when called with food.
I had heard that people would just sit and just watch chicken tv in their backyard. So, when I got the chickens in their pen, I decided to sit back and see how good the show was. With my young Labrador retriever, Sloan, by my side. She is extremely well behaved so I decided to trust her. I’ll admit I was a little nervous about her so I checked my fence to see if it was chicken escape proof. After watching one of the chickens assess a small gap under the fence, decide not to go through it to freedom, I thought “ excellent, she’s a dumb bird, I’ve got no problems to worry about.” (famous last words). My dog on the other hand was absolutely ecstatic. She was shaking like she had just struck every genetic nerve she had. She said to me “Daddy, I don’t know what those things are, but everything in my body says I should put one in my mouth!”.
Then it happened, the dumb chicken who had previously decided not to escape, turned out not to be so dumb and did escape. I freaked out. I started to chase my chicken. You may have seen videos on youtube about this sort of thing, chasing chickens doesn’t work. You see, I didn’t know you could call chickens with food, I didn’t know they would come when you “click” to them. All I thought was “I better catch that chicken before the dog does”. Sloan was thinking, “Yahoo! daddy ! This is just the moment I’ve been waiting for. I’ll help you!” And there we were, both chasing the chicken all around the back yard.
Then, right before my eyes the chicken jumped 4 feet up into the air and as if in slow motion, I watched my dog leap from her hind legs like some sort of deer after the chicken. With her mouth wide open, she reached for the back end of the bird and caught three feathers in her mouth. Once she landed I stopped chasing a chicken immediately, threw the dog up the stairs and into the house yelled at her to “sit down!” and then finally I got the chicken into the cage.
Once the chicken was safe I came stomping over to my dog with my finger extended pointing at her and yelling explicatives and “don’t you ever do that again dog!” I was seeing red. Of course, the whole thing was my fault, but that didn’t occur to me until Sloan looked at me directly and said, still with feathers hanging out of her mouth “daddy I know you are so angry you could kill me right now but please know I would die a happy dog. I’ll make you a deal, don’t kill me and I won’t try to eat any more chickens.” I agreed and that was that. She’d made her point and she’s never touched the chickens since. I’ve also learned to call them quietly by just dangling a little food in front of them and clicking the back of my tongue to the roof of my mouth as if I was ushering a horse to move. You can call a chicken dumb but you can’t call her late for dinner. Now, when I just open the window to throw any scraps out they come running at full speed.
Happy Chicken Keeping!
~Walker Leiser, Certified Permaculture Designer
Sustainable Landscape Consultant