My blind hen Hildy – Learning to find food March 15, 2013

How can you teach a blind hen to forage if she can’t see what’s on the ground? That was the problem that presented itself to us when Hildy learned to go outside.

Hildy the blind hen

Miss Hildy, you can’t see it, but you’ve got a feather out of place.

When our blind hen learned to use the coop door to come outside, we were thrilled—but also frightened and worried for her. We were thrilled because, when she had stayed exclusively in the coop, that meant she didn’t have the advantage of foraging like all the other chickens, so exiting the coop meant that she had access to all sorts of healthy foods she didn’t have before. My hens free range and supplement their diets as needed. It produces healthier eggs. They get bugs and grass and seeds and all sorts of good stuff that way… but blind Hildy stayed in the coop and had to eat commercial feed only, as it was the only thing available in there.  Mind you, eating only well-balanced commercial food is not a terrible problem to have; it’s just not the ideal situation. Coming outside afforded our blind hen the opportunity to improve her diet—and be more of a full-time member of the flock. However, I guess you can lead a hen to forage, but you can’t make her eat.

When she came outside she was essentially foodless, since she couldn’t see to forage. Her blindness meant the behavior just never developed in her. Plus, she never did learn to go back inside the coop of her own volition so she couldn’t go in and eat when she needed to. Instead, when she came out to hang with the flock, she also went hungry. What to do?

When I would call the others to come for treats, they all came running. Hildy learned to come running, too. Our darling little blind hen came to the sound of my voice, and also, I think, to the sound of her flock-mates’ running feet and flapping wings. But even though she came when we announced it was treat time, our Hildy would wander around amongst the other girls as they busily ate the sunflower seeds, seemingly confused as to what all the hubbub was about.

Hildy the blind hen can't see the treats that the rest of the flock eats.

Here she is standing on my foot, asking to be picked up. while the rest of the flock is enjoying some treats,

Since she wasn’t eating treats with the other girls or even foraging on her own, to keep her from going too hungry, I’d carry her inside a few times a day so she could eat and drink at the feeders and waterers she was familiar with. But 10 minutes later, she had launched herself out the pophole door again, looking for her sisters. She had learned to go outside, and she just didn’t want to be alone anymore.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried to teach her to forage and eat treats. I had tried. Tried and failed. Occasionally, I would offer special treats to her like sunflower seeds, meal worms and the like… but I was never able to induce her to eat from my hand. A blind hen can’t see treats in your hand. When she felt my hand brushing the front of her chest, she’d try to scoot around it to get to my foot, on which she would stand until I picked her up and petted her.

Hildy the blind hen ignored the hand offering her treats

Out of my way, Hand. I’ll just go around.

Or occasionally when she got very impatient to be cuddled, she tried stepping directly onto my hand as a perch. “You will hold me now!” she seemed to be demanding. How cute is that: Hildy the blind hen, settling down companionably on my treat-filled hand to preen her feathers, then closing her eyes for a nap? But it did nothing to alleviate the problem that she couldn’t eat from anything but the feeders she was familiar with—and the feeders were inside where she couldn’t get to them on her own.

However, my husband decided that he was not going to give up on teaching her to eat treats and forage. He was so patient with her. As I described, when we would toss out seeds or scratch, they would all come running, Hildy among them. Once he decided to teach her, he was there every time. As she wandered around wondering what everyone was doing–what’s with all the activity?–he would be holding his hand in front of her. Sometimes she would walk past, oblivious, or try to step up, and other times she would just stand there pressing herself against him, waiting to be petted. (Of course he obliged–who can resist such gracious affection?) But it wasn’t helping the cause, so he adjusted his strategy. He began raising his hand up so the food would rattle against her beak, hoping that a familiar sensation would trigger something.

Eventually it worked. One day our blind hen had her sort of Helen Keller (“water!”) moment. Rattle went the seeds against her beak. She stopped cold. And then pecked. Rattle. She had hit the food, but failed to retrieve anything. Still, it had dawned on her what we were trying to do, and what all her sisters were doing, why they were so excited. She pecked again, and this time she got something.

Then she went mad. If she had been a puppy, her little tail would have been wagging a mile a minute. Her aim was never good, but it got better and better with more practice. Eventually she was one of the great attractions at our farm for visitors: she would eat from your hands, allow herself to be held and follow you around like a puppy.

Hildy the blind hen eating from hands

Hildy the blind hen charms a young visitor

Teaching a chicken to eat from your hand… okay, it’s not much of a “trick” for most birds, but it’s a breakthrough for a blind hen. Does your flock know any tricks? Or do you have a special needs chicken that was able to learn and adapt?

 

18 Comments
George Castonguay March 15th, 2013

Chipmunk, my EE rooster, is quite a gentleman when it comes to his ten ladies and if you hand him any kind of treat if they are around he makes his funny little croon and drops the treat for them to enjoy–unless he is sitting on my knee. That is his province and he will eat treats for himself and gets quite irate with any of the girls that try to horn in on his special time.

Alison March 15th, 2013

I don’t have chickens, but I’ve really been enjoying your stories about Hildy. What a patient husband you have!

Cathi March 15th, 2013

This is the most heartwarming story I’ve ever read.
Our Poland hen, Parsley, was only temporarily blind for a bit when she had an eye infection. She soon learned to eat out of our hands, but never learned to drink. We had to dribble water into her beak with a syringe. Luckily she recovered after a couple of weeks and soon asserted her dominance over our little flock.

Kim March 15th, 2013

I’ve got a hen that jumps up onto my head if I don’t poor the seed fast enough. SO impatient!

Kim March 15th, 2013

What breed is that attractive black and white rooster? :0

Lissa March 16th, 2013

That is Gautier, a Salmon Faverolles rooster. You can see a close-up photo of him here in the previous Hildy story.

Kim March 16th, 2013

Ah, he sooo handsome! He sort of looks like my cousin, Deadbirdie Seedchick, the Ameraucana.

Kate March 20th, 2013

I loved your story about HIldy! We have a blind hen also so I could really relate..she has a special place in our hearts and we always worry a little extra for her.

Liz August 26th, 2013

Thank you for this. My lovely speckledy, Fan (short for Fanny Fanackapan), has been half blind for at leat 2 years, since we found her, and over the last 3 days has lost the sight in her remaining eye. Although she knows about hand feeding she can’t see or smell that there are treats there. Your story has given me the hope that I can teach her to find them again. Thank you.

alisha June 16th, 2014

I have a blind chicken. Her name is Polly and she is a bantam. She was my moms chicken she was attacked by a hawk. My mom thought she had went in the chicken coop to die. Come a couple days later Polly was still alive. My mom decided to try to save her. She brought her in the house and put her in a big dog carrier. At first Polly wouldn’t eat anything till mom wet some crackers and wet them down for her. Hence the name Polly.The hawk done some big damage but she did eventually heal. Went from crackers to biscuits then to eating chicken food again. Took a while for her to get used to where her food and water was but mom kept putting in the same place till Polly learned. Now she is in my care my mom got to down in health. She still lives in her dog carrier no other chicken will let her around them they attack her. She will holler when she wants to be let out of the carrier. I put her outside to scratch in her own little area. She will peck and peck till she finds clover to eat. Then she will holler at me in the evenings to put her back in her carrier. Needless to say if she hears any bird screech she will find a hiding place.
She is healthy and still kicking 5 years later so me and mom have did something right.

Grace April 14th, 2015

My name is Grace, and I am 14. I also have a blind hen named Domino. She was attacked by a coyote and went into shock, and I managed to save her by tube feeding her applesauce and Gatorade. Eventually, she began to peck at it herself (often missing) and figured out she had to peck for food. I slowly showed her where the feed and water was, and she figured it out. Now she has a scar down her back, and she free ranges with the other four hens. She gets along pretty well, but I have to show her where the water and food is several times a day to keep her hydrated and full. She is healthy, and always comes running when I call the hens for scraps.

Alexandra Dias September 4th, 2015

Hello,

I have a little chick that was born without eyes and a bit crippled. He doesn’t have much balance. I know that there are solutions like chicken wheelchairs and like that the chick can move easily. My problem is that the chick is growing, almost 3 weeks old now but always with artificial feeding. Since young he couldn’t eat, because he didn’t see his mother doing it he didn’t have the initiative to eat. How can I help my blind crippled chicken to at least be autonomous and eat by himself? (I have tried tapping the finger on food…). Thank you so much. Congrats on the great website!

Lissa September 8th, 2015

I had a blind chick hatch out once at home. She had other problems, and only lived a few months. But we were able to teach her to eat by putting her–it sounds a little crazy–inside a little bucket of feed. Even though she was blind, she still had the instinct to peck, but of course she couldn’t see where the food was to peck at food. Inside the bucket, wherever she pecked, there was food. We put her in several times a day, and eventually she learned the feel of feed on her beak, and the sound it made to eat. I think that’s why she was able to figure out how to eat from feeders after a while–because she heard her siblings eating (I don’t remember how long it took–but not super long in the scheme of things. Maybe two weeks?) Best of luck with your little chick! <3

[…] of her anecdotes reminds me of my hen Hildy… Nancy Luce’s hens were spoiled enough that they wouldn’t eat treats if they fell […]

danielle June 26th, 2016

OM Gosh, a lovely, touching story. Hildy and owner are both blessed!

Chickens Rule!

Danielle

Kim March 31st, 2017

My flock of gold and silver laced wyandottes recently turned on one of their own, my depth perception impaired chicken. we only have hens, no roosters allowed in my town. So I have a question, will she never be able to be with the flock again? They were all raised together from chicks, and they are a little over a year old now. When I found her, she was hiding in the coop- head featherless and bloodied and one eye attacked. I have a plan to make her own coop with a run beside the current coop and run, but are there ever chances that she could be reintroduced?

Lissa April 3rd, 2017

Oh, poor little thing! My sympathies. It’s possible she could be reintroduced, depending on your situation. But there is no guarantee. Generally speaking, you’d want to try a reintroduction after your injured girl is recovered (of course), and also after you’ve identified and addresses whatever issue may have caused the pecking. It would also be best done in when the rest of your flock has good pasture and fine weather to keep them out-of-doors and give them something to do other than irritate each other in the coop. You can read advice on introducing (or in this case re-introducing) birds to the established flock for advice. We do wish you the best of luck!

Jeannette Washington September 3rd, 2017

Thank you thank you thank you!
We were just blessed with a little baby girl name Starlight who seems to be nearly completely blind and this was such a helpful and hopeful article… that we might be able to get her to eventually be part of our flock! Thank you again.

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