31 March 2011

007 - House Training Your Chooks

This is probably the most common inquiry I receive second to "Is that really a chicken?" I often hear people ask, "What do you do when they poop?" or just about any variation of "poop" thereof. For this reason, the command phrase for my chickens could not be any variation of the word, but instead I chose the phrase, "Go pooters". I am now at the point that I can take my eldest - about a year and a half - to a friend's house, spend the night, and feel comfortable with him in his kennel and even out on the couch with me so long as I take him out every few hours, find him a patch of grass or dirt, and tell him, "Go pooters, Bo. Go pooters."

But let's back up. Lots of people don't even believe that chickens even have bowel control, let alone the ability to be house trained! However, I've heard of many chickens, while indoors, only using toilets, news papers, old tin pie pans, trash cans, and many other "designated" areas. The use of a designated area indicates bowel control. Also an indicator of bowel control is that both chicks ( of both sexes ) and broody hens have the instinct NOT to "go" in the nest. Broody hens tend to hold their bowels except for ONE venture off the nest A DAY. Chicks, on the other hand, tend to at least try to hold themselves during the night, and usually do a pretty good job of it.

When I didn't used to use the heat-pad method for raising chicks, I used a heat lamp, like most other people. The downside of using a heat lamp is that the chicks NEVER have a sense of night time, and when they don't have that definite night time, they become VERY cranky. Combine this with the fact that I raise chicks in my room with me, and guess who's not getting any sleep! As in... less than usual! So to combat that, my chicks went out with me during the day. I wrapped my large scarf around my neck, which bundled the chicks like a hammock, and occasionally let them in my hood. While in my scarf or my hood, they are exposed to a dark environment that is warm and snug, very similar to being sat on by Mum. They would snuggle right up against my neck and sleep all day. I made certain to every hour or so dump them from my scarf and let them stretch their legs a little. I observed VERY quickly that almost immediately upon being expulsed from the scarf, they relieved themselves with some VERY large stools! This is the chick's natural instinct not to soil the nest kicking in.

I never discipline my chickens for defecating. I never shout at them, hit them, or otherwise discourage them. I take every single opportunity to let the command phrase "go pooters" sink in. Each and every time they defecate, I say, "Go pooters!" and give them lots of praise. This has established itself so that when I give the command out of context ( when they have NOT just defecated ), they have begun to experiment to see just what it means and how to get praise from it. They KNOW I am asking them to do something, but only occasionally will the eldest even catch on. When I use the command phrase out of context, my chickens become excited and begin to experiment with their actions to receive praise from me, because I will not give them praise just because I used the phrase. They will turn around and look at me. They will bob their heads and look at me. They will squat... and look at me. If they don't defecate immediately, I try the command again, then just wait for them to defecate and use the phrase. The constant looking at me is a great sign that they are checking in with me, to see just what they're doing that I agree with.

You can also help this process by timing between your chicken's average defecation ( for chicks, this is about every fifteen minutes - I am not sure about adults ), and then using that timing to time your responses, but more importantly you can use this to take your chicken to a designated litter area, give the command, have them defecate, and then praise them for defecating in a specific area. Now, once again let's look at the fact that chickens are very, very much creatures of habit, and working off of that we can create a habit of a designated litter area. This means that given time and lots of repetition, the chicken will begin to integrate that specific area into their daily routine. I know that my big rooster can safely hold his bowels for up to five hours - most animals have an eight hour limit. With my big rooster, he can sit in my lap, or even snuggle up with me and sleep at night, and even be carried around in his satchel for hours on end without making a mess. This tells me that with time and training, chickens DO have bowel control, and the ability to learn commands and patterns associated with house training.

Looking at what we've discussed above, that chickens have an instinct not to go in the nest, thus granting them bowel control; that chickens are dire creatures of habit; that chickens are very smart and inquisitive animals ( smart enough to EXPERIMENT with behaviour ), and thus trainable... we will conclude that it is entirely possible to house train your chicken. Let's also consider hat bowel control and pattern creation ( or "habits" ) are the two key elements to house training - the command phrase is just a plus if you ever have to redirect your bird's habits, or give them an occasional different place to go ( such as if they usually go in a litter box, but you decide to redirect them to go in the grass one day ).

Please make note to NEVER actually put litter in a litter box if that's what you choose to use, because the chickens WILL try to eat it! They will see it as the "grit" and little rocks that they eat to help their crop break down and digest food stuffs. Please also use your command phrases responsibly. With that, have fun allowing your chickens to meander your home freely without the need of a diaper or following them around with a roll of toilet paper!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to Email me or leave a comment here on the blog. Please use my Email for more dire circumstances, or if you need a reply right away.

2 comments:

  1. I love all your posts. They're really useful! Thanks!

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  2. I have two silkies that are almost a month old. How long should I wait before trying to train them?

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