Chickens are smarter than we think! If you’ve been following our social media, you’ve seen Sweetie taking on the Queen of Diamonds' challenge at the beginning of the holiday and then being crowned on Christmas day.
Sweetie is our little hen who went through a lot (egg farm, head injury, salpingectomy...) and is now spending her nights in the house. Seeing her eagerness to jump in in her carrier in the morning to go outside, and then later in the afternoon to come back inside, we decided that she was ready for the Queen’s challenge. The challenge consists of pecking a specific Queen out of a deck of cards. Fun, isn’t it?
So, during the long winter nights, we started the training. It is based on positive reinforcement meaning that wanted behaviors are rewarded while unwanted ones are ignored. To mark precisely when Sweetie is doing the right thing, we use a clicker (a little box that makes a short, distinct "click" sound) which we attached to the handle of a cup. The cup itself is filled with scratch, her favorite treat.
We decomposed the challenge in small simple steps. The key is to keep it short and fun (for all parties involved!). Although Sweetie showed a unusual long attention span of about 15 minutes, we kept our training sessions to 7-8 minutes. Here are the steps we took each day:
Day 1: Learn to peck at a card (the Queen of Diamonds). She is a fast learner!
Day 2: Introducing black numbers without problem. She stayed focused on the Queen of Diamonds all the time!
Day 3: Introducing red numbers with only one mistake! And adding more cards without a glitch.
Day 4: Introducing a black face. It's getting a bit confusing... She thought that the game was about pecking at the faces.
Day 5-6: Working more with the black faces as it’s challenging. She wanted to rewrite the rules of the game in the middle, but eventually got it.
Day 7: Adding a red face. She got a bit frustrated with the new challenge but mastered it quickly.
Day 8: Adding more faces. It's hard work!
Day 9: Practicing all what we've learned so far with an 80% success rate. She recognizes the Queen of Diamonds perfectly, but I think she is just a bit lazy when she doesn't see her right away. LOL
Day 10: Sweetie is ready for the grand finale! All the faces are out with many of the numbers. She made very few mistakes. Sweetie is officially crowned our Queen of Diamonds.
Do you want to have fun with your chickens and impress your friends at the same time? Take on that challenge with your most social and food motivated chicken. Chickens are really good at recognizing shapes and patterns, and they have a very good memory. And remember, keep it short and fun!
(You can find the videos of each training session in this YouTube playlist.)