How to Herd Your Chickens (or ducks)

Y’all may have seen these photos when they were in the news last month, but they have taken on practical significance for us lately. Our chickens get to roam free  all winter, but now that the garden in our little urban backyard farm is tender and tasty, they are supposed to stay in the the nice run we built for them.  Still, whenever I open their gate for food or water or a friendly visit, if I turn my back for a second those bad little girls manage to sneak out, and head straight for the snap pea vines.  To retrieve them, I usually pick them up one by one and carry them back.  Tom?  He picks up a broom handle or a bamboo garden stake, and “herds” them.  Even though I make fun of him (he looks, you know, sort of dorky herding four little chickens), I have to admit his method is efficient.  The hens don’t seem afraid of the pole, they just take it as a signal to walk together back to their house.  Tom felt vindicated when he saw the images of these two farmers in China’s Zhejiang province, herding their 5,000 ducks through Taizhou city traffic.

The farmers move the ducks 3/4 mile between two ponds every year.  I love how the farmers (and the ducks) look so totally relaxed.  And the  tool of choice for two men herding an ocean of 5,000 ducks?  Nothing but a bamboo pole.

Evidently the method works on water, as well.  This lovely circa 1920 photo from the USC digital archives shows a man and child in a small wooden boat, herding their ducks along a quiet river.  The photo is labeled “Duck Culture,” but the location in China is not known.

I am not ready to give up the messy fun of chasing chickens about the yard, but if you have disorderly poultry, give the Tom/Taizhou method a try!


  1. I tried everything to herd my small urban flock before I stumbled on using the garden hose. I looked pretty foolish chasing them around with sticks and so on. Now, a little spray behind their tails motivates them to go back to the safety of their run. The smart ones (yes, smart is a rare condition for my hens, too) head for safety as soon as I reach for the hose now.

  2. Am reading Crow Planet right now. Lots of good insights.

    I remember seeing pictures of duck herding a few years ago and learning from someone that in that province in China, Jesus is not thought of as the Good Shepherd, but as the Good Duck Man (loose translation, I’m sure.)

    best wishes!

  3. TJ

    Mine are “bucket trained”… I’ve got a little bucket kept on the kitchen counter and filled slowly throughout the day with bread crusts, leftover scraps, veggie peelings and the like. The girls recognize the bucket, so when it’s time to kennel up, they run happily from all points of the yard to cluster around my feet as we walk together into the coop. I toss their treats, they rush to eat, I close the door behind them. Fun for all! 🙂

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