At one time or another, most chicken-keepers have experienced the inconvenience of having to chase, coax, cajole or otherwise escort a new flock member into the coop at dusk, which is no fun for us, or them. Chickens do not manage stress well and moving from one housing arrangement to another is extremely stressful for chickens, whether from a brooder to a coop or from one backyard to another. How they manage that stress will vary from chicken to chicken, but it often results in confusion about where ‘home’ is and where they should sleep at night.I refer to it as Coop Training. Coop Training can be done chickens of any age but the younger, the better. It is far easier to teach good habits from the beginning than it is to try to break bad habits later. For this reason, I always Coop Train young and new flock members.
THE COOP TRAINING METHOD
**An important safety note: Coop Training should never be done when the temperatures inside the coop exceed 70° F.**
Confine chickens to the coop with no access to the run for at least a week. This reinforces the concept of ‘home’ and they have no choice but to roost inside the coop.Week two, open the pop door and allow them to venture out into the run if they wish, but do not interfere if they would rather not. In the unlikely event they do not return to the coop at dusk that first night, they need more time confined to the coop. In another week, try again. (I have never had to resort to adding on a second week.)
There are times when chickens that have been residing in the coop for some time suddenly fail to return to the coop at dusk, which can be due to a predator scare or some other stressor, once the issue has been identified and resolved, coop re-training can begin. The solution to their apprehension is simply to re-train them for a week as outlined above. Again, the temperature inside the coop must not exceed 70°F and the underlying stressor must be resolved first.
Nest Box Training
A related training opportunity can be seized upon while Coop Training new chicks in an empty coop- Nest Box Training. Whenever I put new chicks (not hens who are already laying eggs) in an empty coop, I always close off access to the nest boxes to prevent them from sleeping in them. Sometimes in the confusion and stress of the move, they will hide in the nest boxes and develop the unwanted habit of sleeping and pooping in them. That is a habit best discouraged from the beginning as it is quite difficult to break. When the chickens approach approximately 17 weeks of age, the nest boxes can be opened for business.
Coop training also addresses the problem of hidden egg nests. Some free-range chickens will lay their eggs in hidden locations throughout the property, which is undesirable. Coop training gives them no choice but to lay their eggs in nest boxes. It can help to put fake eggs, such as wooden eggs, marble eggs or golf balls in the nest to suggest to the birds where theirs should be laid. After a week or two of confinement to the coop and run, they will develop the habit of laying eggs where it is convenient for us, not them.
|photo used with permission, L. Bittinger 2012.|