This article was excerpted from Chicken Keeping Pure + Simple: A Fun, Friendly Guide to Backyard Chicken Keeping, by Nikki Husted, publishing May 2023 by Cool Springs Press.
After you have taught the children to interact calmly with the
chickens, adding in a few interactive activities can be rewarding for everyone involved. Feeding chickens from your hands is exciting on its own, but chickens like to play games and can even learn tricks! It is such a fun adventure for children to be able to show off their chicken training skills to visitors as well. Remember, not all chickens are up for the task. Choose chickens to work with that have friendly dispositions. My inquisitive chickens are also fond of these games.
One of my favorite tricks to teach a chicken is lap jumping. It’s easy to teach as well! Start by sitting on the ground with your legs crisscrossed with one chicken out in the yard with you. Show the chicken that you have feed in your hands. Regular chicken feed will work but grubs or mealworms might be better! Put the treat in your right hand and cross it over to the left side of your body with the chicken on that side as well. Let the chicken have a few from your hand while you hold your hand to the side of your body. Then begin pulling the hand back across your body. Allow the chicken to have a few more with each movement. Soon your hand will be at the middle of your lap and then out of the chicken’s reach. For the chicken to reach the food, she will need to jump into your lap. When she does, feed her a big handful as a reward! I like to add in a clicking noise with my mouth right before I get her to jump up. Soon she will be able to jump up when she hears the noise.
Have your child wear jeans or put a towel on their lap to avoid scratches! My son Henry loves helping with the chickens. Well, he loves to play with them and feed them. When it’s time to clean the coop, he’s nowhere to be found.
Have you ever seen a chicken jump straight up into the air? It is pretty comical and actually easy to teach! Start by standing on the ground with one or two chickens. Hold a grub or mealworm above the chicken where they can easily reach it. After they take it, do it again but a tiny bit higher. Keep going until they have to stretch or stand on their tiptoes to reach it. When they master that, hold it higher and higher until they are jumping for it! How high can you get your chicken to jump?
Chickens are very food motivated. Aren’t we all?
You and your child can teach them to knock over a cup to find their food. This is best done with one chicken at a time. Put a paper cup upside down on the ground. Place a treat on top. They will find this treat quickly. After doing that a few times, put the treat on the ground in front of the cup. Then, put the cup half over the treat so it is sticking out a bit. After doing this several times, cover the treat and tap the cup with your finger. If they start investigating but can’t find it, tap the cup, then lift it slightly and let them grab the treat. Soon, you will be able to tap the cup and the chicken will knock it over, revealing the reward! How many cups can they knock over in a row?
The Card Trick
For a more advanced trick, try teaching your chicken to tap a certain card for a treat. This one takes time and patience, but I was able to train my bossiest hen to do this trick. It gave the flock a break from her authoritarianism and gave her something to do. Start by removing her from the distraction of the flock. Show her one card (I chose the ace of spades). Place the card on the ground and put a treat on top. Tap it with your finger and make a clicking noise with your mouth. Do that over and over until she takes it. Practice this multiple times for a few days. When she is grabbing the treat instantly, try the tap and click but without a treat. If she taps the card, give her a treat instantly. Do this until she has it mastered. Next, try adding another card and only treat her when she taps the original one. I got my hen to recognize the ace of spades in a lineup of five cards!
A fun way for children to interact with their chickens is to have them make activities or toys for them. My children are always up for a fun craft and involving the chickens is even better. Let me share a few favorites.
- Freeze fruits, veggies or dried grubs in ice trays. Fill a bowl with the cubes for your chickens to peck at on a hot day.
- Have your kids search for flowers, berries, weeds and different leaves to share with the chickens. They will peck at them or you can try hiding grubs or mealworms under the pile for a little chicken treasure hunt.
- Make a hanging vegetable toy! Use a skewer to thread heads of lettuce, peppers, melon and squash. Watch the chickens go to town!
- Have your child draw or paint their favorite chicken. They can spend time sitting in the grass with all of their art supplies and observe as the hen forages.
- Have your child make a hide-and-seek treat box. The box can have holes or a secret door for the chicken to discover treats or just their feed inside.
- Your kids can make a fun treat dispenser for the chickens. Find an empty cardboard canister, poke a few holes in the bottom, fill it with feed or treats, and hang it for the chickens to peck and move around until the treats fall! They can even decorate it for some extra fun (just nothing that the chickens could peck off and eat, so stick to just coloring).