Taming Chicks – Adventures in Chicken Keeping

Keeping chickens as pets has become increasingly popular over the years among urban and suburban residents. And on farms and smaller rural properties many folks keep chickens for their eggs and for their fertilizing capabilities. With the growing interest in all-natural pest control alternatives too, many gardeners are now keeping chickens to rid their property of unwanted insects and larvae.

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Our three-month old Cochin/Phoenix mix chicks pose pretty for the camera.

We all know that some keepers, especially those with children, want to tame their chickens as they are often kept as pets. Many times chicks are snuggable from the get-go but what about those times they are not?

Some chicken lovers rescue chickens or re-home them when situations on a farm change. Chickens, especially chicks can be tamed by hand- feeding and by being handled gently and regularly.

We all know that many people want to tame their chickens but the actual step-by-step “how to” information isn’t as readily available.

From my experience, taming chickens when they are babies is best. By the time they are adults and unless they have been handled on regular babies it can be very hard. They may be friendly and accessible, but not approachable enough to be considered truly tame.

Yours may gain trust in you over time with persistence and treats. Just call them and throw the food near to them and keep tossing it closer to you each time. Eventually they may eat it out of your hand. However I am doubtful that already grown chickens will ever let you pick them up and snuggle them tight like a dog does.

JoJo feeding

Working on the taming process. Momma Clover will now eat out of my hand.

But what about when you rescue or re-home a chicken that has not already been tamed?

The Small House Homestead Chick Taming Method:

3 1/2-4 months ago I rescued a momma hen and her five babies that were at that time, approximately two weeks old. They came to me pretty wild having not been touched or spent much time around their people who worked all day.

I gave them a couple of months to settle in and really acclimate to their new home with us on the homestead. Then I started very slowly using cracked corn and dried meal worms; first siting on the ground near them and then feeding meal worms from my hands (not touching them yet.)

Just this week (almost four months into the process) I started putting the dried mealworms on my knees, while sitting on the ground on a mat. The babies have JUST begun to jump up on my knee for the worms.

I have also started to very gently and lightly touch them on their wings. Most give the “danger” trill and run away but one is “allowing” a gentle touch of one or two fingers on her wings. The moral of the story is that it’s a slow and gradual process and to keep at it. I’ve read that guineas are even more wild than chickens.

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My latest trick has been to teach them to jump up on the stump for treats and a photo session!

My Step-by-Step Taming Method:

  1. Talk to them very early on and often. Each time I approach the coop I speak softly and sweetly and telling them a good morning and ask how they are doing. I also talk about what I am doing and I am happy to see them. It isn’t so much what I am saying but that I am consistent in talking to them so they learn my voice. My babies now talk back to me in their soft “I’m happy to see you to,” peeps even before they see me.
  2. Always move slowly.
  3. I am generous with their favorite foods. They have begun to associate me as the food provider and begin to come closer to me when I come into view. Momma Clover will actually cluck at me, as if she is asking for food.
  4. I started by sitting with them on the ground in their run as early as possible. I sit quietly, calmly and don’t reach for them yet. I do this almost everyday and sometime twice a day.
  5. I place some cracked corn or meal worms on the ground near my legs. I gradually let them get use to pecking and eating near me until they are comfortable doing this. I am still not touching them.
  6. I always say “chick, chick, chick” when I am their putting food out so they associate the food, me and the call. This will pay off later on when I want to call them out or back into the coop.
  7. After a couple of weeks of this technique of moving the food closer and closer to my body, my patience is paying off.
  8. After another week or two of this technique I now place the food higher up on my leg. Pretty soon they will be reaching up onto my body to get the food they want.
  9. Once they get use to eating off of my body, jumping up onto my legs I am ready to test eating out of my hand. I start by grabbing a small handful of treats to lure them in close. I keep my hand open and low to the ground and I don’t move. They will soon peck the food out of my hand and eventually will take a dried mealworm from inbetween my two fingers.
  10. I keep at this everyday once or twice a day.
  11. After a month or two of this, i now begin slowly reach out and touch their feathers with a finger or two, always moving slowly and softly.  They may give squeal and run, or give the “stranger/danger” trill but eventually one or two of them will sit still, watching me carefully and allowing me to touch them on the chest or the wing.

If you want to tame your chicks spend time a lot of time with them and it will pay off with touchable and cuddly chickens.

Small House Homesteader and Chicken Keeper, Donna

Sunshine on the Homestead

Our temps started out real cold this week, down to -25 and windy. Brrr. But lately we’ve been having much more moderate temps, sunshine and we’re maybe going to hit above 35 today. A nice break in the weather. Translated, that means we’re getting more done around here because we can stand to work outside.

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Clover says keep your eyes on the sky!

This morning was devoted to doing a load of laundry, washing the last two picture windows of our Ranch home that were missed in the last round of window washing as well as washing the light fixtures over the kitchen bar area (they get so dusty and greasy from cooking). We will then have a planning session in the chicken run to work out the details for a covered run project.

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Where did those worms come from?

After the great chicken escape last week I’m reluctant to let the chickens out for a true free range without some kind of protection or supervision. I’m hoping we can come up with a suitable plan. Gene wants to do a “temporary” cover and I figure if we are spending the time, energy and money make it permanent. I’ll keep you posted as to who will win this decision!!

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Hey I’m the top chicken here, move over girl!

Gene is waxing my Subaru in a friend’s heated barn this afternoon while I am cooking up squash and sweet potatoes. We prefer to wax our vehicles spring and fall but this year that chore just plain got away from us. We are now playing catch-up.

Clover eyeing me baby on knee

For meal worms, my favorite treat, I’ll put up with that strange women and her knees.

We have a special yoga event this Friday and we are both very excited about it. We will have one teacher teaching a short breathing meditation, a second teacher giving us a crystal singing bowls event and our regular teacher will teach us an hour of restorative yoga. This will be followed by a group holiday potluck. much to Gene’s excitement.

So today I am making one of our favorite soups; sweet potato, kale and sausage soup for the potluck. This just might be my husband’s favorite soup of all.

The original recipe came from a favorite book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow. Of course, I adapted her recipe and made it my own. This was a transformative book for me because this was the first time I read about “eating local” and that it was a privilege not a sacrifice. In fact, it was this book that helped to lead me to our homestead today.

I grow most of the ingredients like tomatoes, beans and kale from our garden but I left the recipe to include anything pre-package in case you do not.

Sweet Potato, Sausage and Kale Soup

(Adapted originally from This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow

This soup was originally a Portuguese tradition and I add some of my favorite ingredients that I have adapted over the years.


2 tablespoons olive oil

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4 cups chopped onion (about 2 large)

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1 teaspoon sea salt (I use just a small pinch)

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1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/teaspoon nutmeg

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Rosemary to taste (try ½ to 1 Tablespoon to start)

1 pound sweet turkey Italian sausage (or whatever sausage you like)

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8 cups coarsely chopped peeled sweet potato (about 2 1/4 pounds or 6 large potatoes)

2 cups of cabbage

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5 cups water

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

I also add 5 or 6 chicken bouillon cubes

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1 (16-ounce) package pre-washed torn kale

Parsley to taste (I used about two heaping tablespoons)

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1 (16-ounce) can cannelloni beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16 oz. canned tomato) or homegrown/frozen

(I also like to add chunks of cooked/boiled Butternut squash to my soup. (It’s filled with fiber and I love it in my soups.)

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  1. Boil sweet potatoes and drain.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion; sauté 10-15 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Remove casings from sausage; add sausage to pan. Cook 5 minutes or until sausage is lightly browned, stirring to crumble.
  4. Add potatoes, 5 cups water, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Gradually add kale; cook 10 minutes or until tender.
  5. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and beans (squash and any other ingredients above)
  6. Transfer to a crock pot and finish cooking and blending all flavors

This afternoon I sat in the chicken run and played with the babies. I put meal worms on my legs and they jumped up to eat them. I took as many pictures as I could get. Clover won the award for the funniest hen today. Such inquisitive and humorous looks on her face!

Adventures in chicken keeping is the best way to spend an afternoon.

Small house Homestead Chicken Keeper, Donna


A Winters Day Dust Bath

One of my favorite chicken behaviors is to watch them dust bathing. This weekend it looked like it was chickens day at the beach where the only thing missing were fruity drinks with umbrellas in them.

Momma Clover starts scratching in the dry dirt trying to make a hole big enough for herself and the little ones come right over and start scratching and digging too. Clover moves over to another spot to make it her own and it like she is thinking. “Can’t I just have 10 minutes to myself to take a bath!” But the five babies are right their bathing as close as they can possibly get to her and jumping on top of her at the same time.

Can't ihave just 10 minutes to myself

Won’t someone please watch the kids for a few minutes for me?

Clover likes to bath under the coop itself where the soil is very loose, warm from the sun and dry. She scratches and proceeds to dig herself in. She will dig and dig, scoop the dirt with her beak, throwing dirt all over herself, roll repeat and shake. And the babies do the same and try to stay as close as possible to momma while they are dusting too.

Dust bathing from east

Clovers favorite place to dust is in the dry dirt under the chicken coop.

I love to stand by and watch the entertainment.

They dust bathe as a means of cleaning their feathers by taking the natural oily-ness off. They also get the dust on the feather shafts and skin which lessons mite infestations. Some chicken keepers take advantage of their interest in dusting to add some food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) to the area. It’s the easiest method to prevent lice and mites. I’ve read that the DE dehydrated the critters as well as poke holes in them so they die.

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See the dust a’flying?

I made a decision to not use the DE with my chickens due to concerns for their repertory systems.

We built them their own “sand box” but they never use it. They like the spot under the coop or the sunny corner of the run. Even the baby roosters like to bath.

On momma and dust

The Three amigos decided they want to be on top of momma while she dusts.

Kathy the Chicken Chic say this…”A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a shower – it is both functional and recreational; chickens use dust baths to clean themselves, to relax, and to socialize. The fact that they are entertaining to us is a collateral benefit.”

Two babiesonMomma

A time to snuggle and to be sociable!

At the end of the bath they shake, preen and groom their feathers back into place.

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna


Using Oak and Maple Leaves on the Homestead

Using leaves on the Small House homestead is Permaculture gardening at its finest….waste nothing!

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Grand daughter Brenna and grandpa Gene, with their pack-baskets taking a walk down the leaf strewn path in our 15 acre woods.

I love using dry leaves in my chicken coop, garden and our wooded trails paths as well. They are free for the taking and this natural and holistic system just plain works well.

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Our compost bin is surrounded by leaves which help keep the weeds down to a minimum.

I prefer the oak leaves in the coop and on the wooded trails (we have 47 White Oak Trees) since it takes them a long time to break down. I use my son’s maple leaves for our garden beds because they do break down quickly and over the winter they break up and start to turn into wonderful soil by summer. I use more oak leaves in the vegetable garden on the pathways and edges to keep down the weeds.

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Layers of leaves help to kill the weeds in our vegetable garden and give the chickens a great place to scratch for worms and bugs.

Today I added more dry oak leaves to my chicken coop’s deep litter. My husband sweep out the pole barn yesterday and swept up a couple of buckets full of leaves in the clean up process. I just make sure they are very dry.

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Clover and babies – chicken scratching on the farm!

The chickens love to scratch through them too!

Donna from the Small House Homestead

What I Learned from Rescueing Two Week Old Chicks (with their Momma)

What I Learned from Rescuing Two-Week Old Chicks

Have you ever thought about adopting or rescuing chickens? You’ve seen the posts on Craig’s List offering chickens free to a “good home.”  You are thinking about undertaking an amazing journey. Here are a few things you should know before you say “Yes, I take them!”

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What I learned from rescuing a Momma hen and her brood of five, two-week old babies chicks…

  • Plan to quarantine them for at least 30 days from the rest of your flock.
  • Do not plan to go anywhere significant for at least four weeks and maybe longer.
  • If you are new to chicken keeping, plan to join an on-line chicken group and be prepared to ask a lot of questions.
  • Expect your chickens to do the unexpected.
  • Expect them to not have many of the basic skills such as simple tasks like eating from a chicken feeder or drinking from a waterer.
  • Do not expect that they will know how to go in and out of your coop or up and down the chicken ladder. It is quite likely that you will have to teach them those skills.
  • Find out what they have been used to eating as chances are that is all they will eat for a while.
  • Give them time and space to acclimate to their new surroundings.
  • Do not try to pick them up right away and befriend them. Give them plenty of time to adjust.
  • Expect to teach them a LOT about how you want them to live in their new home, this means lots of patience.
  • Mealworms are a great treat to teaching (bribing?) them what learn they need to know.
  • That fall raised babies are a bit more challenging than spring raised chicks due to the cold and the snow.
  • That while challenging, the rewards and the fun is exponential to the amount of time put into their development. Even the smallest of milestones is terribly exciting!

We rescued a hen and her five chicks late this fall. These babies are zany, quirky, funny and terribly entertaining. Expect to give your heart away…

More tales of our Chicken Rescue Chronicles and More Chickens Adventures can be found on our blog at the Small House Homestead.

Small House Homestead, Donna


Making Homemade Kahlua for Gifts

An ounce a day keeps the doctor away…..

I admit it. We’ve been in “vacation mode” over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m doing a bit of cooking too since it’s a holiday weekend and we do a few extra things to celebrate.

We usually don’t drink much here on our homestead. I’ll enjoy perhaps an occasional cold beer on a hot summer day or a glass of wine with dinner when entertaining.  And Gene never drinks after having hepatitis as a teenager while growing up in New York.

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Homemade Kahlua! Looks like I made enough for three years!

But around the holidays it nice to be able to offer a little something special to our guests so I make homemade Kahlua this time of year. It also makes a very thoughtful hostess gift as well!

It only takes five ingredients and Kahlua lasts forever. It is so flexible to use that I can offer it in hot coffee, cold on the rocks or with milk for a White Russian. Easy peasy!

I made a double batch of my homemade Kahua this year so I can take a small fancy bottle for a hostess gift and give a few away as a Christmas gift too.

Homemade Kahlua Recipe

2 quarts boiling water

7 cups granulated white sugar

1 cup instant coffee

1 quart 190 proof grain alcohol

Melt sugar in boiling water. Boil another quart of water and add 1 cup of instant coffee. Boil one minute and let it cool. Add 2 ounces of vanilla and 1 quart of 190 proof grain alcohol.

Now I plan to find some pretty bottles in which to contain the coffee based treat.

Enjoy a holiday toast on me!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Three Month Update on Rescued Chickens – Pets and Partners

Our rescued Cochin/Phoenix baby chickens are about three months old now and nearly fully feathered. From their coloration, and the tiny bumps appearing on the Three Amigos foreheads, I suspect we have two hens and three roosters – sigh. Not at all what I had hoped for! I fear I am going to have to look for homes for the roosters. To this end I have not named them. They are the biggest and definitely the most assertive and they take the lions share of the food too. That has to be the personality of a rooster!

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Two of the Three Amigos. The one on the right I am calling Freckles.

Although momma Clover does not have feathers on her legs or around her feet, her two Cochin babies are both getting feathers on their legs. These look so funny to me as these feathers sticks out in every directions like wild hair in the morning.

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Snowball up on the stump. She is such a funny little chicken!

None are thrilled about being held but all will finally take their favorite dried mealworms snacks from my hands. They have progressed to the point where they can all fly up and into the coop when I want them too. They are all roosting on the roost bar for resting and preening so they are well on their way now.

I am curious to see when Momma Clover “wean’s” them if at all.

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Clover and her babies. What a super chicken momma!

The one remaining challenge is their eating preferences. Momma Clover only eats cracked corn, grass, free range worms (and/or mealworms) – just what she ate at her previous home…period…. I’m working hard to convert the babies to accepting new foods to. I am slowly adding more variety to their diets; variety like sprouts, herbs, fruit or at least giving them the option to eat it. I found out just this week the babies do love blueberries!

The newest thing I am trying to introduce right now is mung bean sprouts because sprouting is easy to do in my kitchen without the special grow lights, trays and so on. Some of the babies will willingly eat a bits of sprouts so I will keep trying that every morning.

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Organic Mung Beans are my newest sprouts – sprout mania!

I am now feeding the sprouts with the grains in the hanging feeder and the chickens go for the grains by preference every time. I’ve recently started feeding the sprouts first thing in the morning when they are the hungriest. When I return later in the day, however, they have usually cleaned up most of the sprouts so that seems the best way to get greens down them. Sprouts are so healthy!

JoJo feeding

Meal worm have helped me to train them to eat from my hand. This has been a big step for these rescued, almost wild chickens!

Yesterday I taught them to jump up onto the tree stumps. I tricked Clover by placing the dried meal worms onto the stump top and once she jumped up on the stump of course so did all the babies.  I thought having the stumps as playthings might help entertain them during the long winter as well as give me a place to feed them with less waste than feeding on the wet or muddy ground.

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A stump cut from a dying tree became a part of our chicken playground. This one has mealworms on top. 

While I have enjoyed these chickens as pets these past two months I really look at them as partners on our homestead.

Chickens as Partners Help our Homestead us in the Following Ways:

  • Make more fertilizer in our garden and in our compost bins to improve our garden’s vegetable production.
  • Control crop damaging insects in our vegetable garden and raspberry patch while  improving their diets as well as our gardens production.
  • Scratch to dig up garden weeds and resulting in less weeding tasks for us.
  • Turning organic waste into a resource while building soil fertility with their poop.

They are hard to resist and so darn entertaining too!

Small House Chicken Keeper and Homesteader, Donna



In Thanksgiving!

We had such a wonderful Thanksgiving even though it was not so traditional!

When your son is divorced and shares the care of his daughter half time with her mother, it helps to be very flexible. We celebrated our family Thanksgiving early this year and in a restaurant. But what really matters is being with family not the where or the how!

We meet at a nice restaurant about half way between our two homes and share a meal together. It’s a special time to reconnect with our loved ones.

Brenna & Grandma DJ 11-22-14

My granddaughter and I together.

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Grandpa Gene and Brenna.

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Our 2014 Thanksgiving family picture.

In grateful thanks for the love of family.

Small House Homesteader, Donna



Taking Advantage of the Short Thaw

Walkway lined w grasses

These grasses were cut down this weekend to complete our fall garden chores.

I was up with the chickens this morning and washed a load of perma-press clothing, fed the chickens, posted a story on our blog about our homestead and baked a black raspberry crisp to have with our lunch today. The crisp is a special treat for my husband for our 18th anniversary that we celebrated on November 30th. In addition to making him happy, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that these tasty berries are our own black raspberries from our garden patch that I picked and froze last summer.

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A December snapshot after the grasses have been cut down at the pool shack.

Gene shoveled the driveway while I cleaned out the chicken coop and began our lunch. I am making Alaskan salmon patties to have with left over sweet potatoes and a tossed salad today. Gene popped Sassy in the truck for her run and combined a trip to the recycle stations while I swept the floors. Our plan is to get to work on the outdoor project this afternoon that was delayed due to the snow.

Gene trimming garden cart

Taking advantage of the snowmelt to cut back the ornamental grasses.

With winter coming on so early this year combined with our two-week long get-away trips we did not finish all of the outdoor garden work. So today when the weatherman predicted a 30 to 40 degree warm up with sunshine we decided we had better get right on cutting down the last of the ornamental grasses.

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The side garden at our simple and basic farm-stead type swimming pool.

I know some gardeners leave the grasses up all winter for interest and for the birds to eat their seeds but over the years we have found it works best for us to cut ours down in the fall. The songbirds have plenty to eat at our year-round bird bed & breakfast bar!

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This is our big compost bin where we toss the tougher grasses to compost. They often take two years to break down. Our Vermont Cart is indispensible for such garden clean up projects.

Here in the land of 6 ft. snowfall the grasses tend to get beat down anyway from the heavy snow fall. While I am more of a cut them down with your hands kind of person, Gene prefers to saw them off with the electric hedge trimmer.  It’s a guy thing! He wraps them in a rope, saws the canes off and I toss them into the Vermont Cart and haul them off to the larger compost bin.

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The chickens free ranging in their fenced in pen.

I let the chickens out to free range and we began the garden project.

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Micanthensis Sinsethisisa favorite type of ornamental grass.

Small House Homesteader, Donna