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The Amazing Acro-Cats used to rent our theater for a month every year.  The last part of their show was a set by the Rock Cats–cats and other animals playing instruments.  One of the musicians was a big hen named Cluck Norris who played the tambourine. They let me jam with her after the show.  She sat on a stool and pecked the tambourine, and I offered her treats from a cup.  When the treats were out, she hopped down, walked backstage, and laid down in her carrier. 

 

Cluck Norris taught me two important things that night.

  1. Artists should be compensated for their training, skill, time, and passion.

  2. Chickens are just as trainable as any other animal. And you do it with a clicker.

 

The Acro-Cats work a spiel about clicker training cats into their show, and the principle is the same for any trainable animal. If the animal does the thing, you reinforce the behavior with a click and offer a treat.  As they advance, you can offer reinforcement more sporadically.  Targeting is often used–either a mark on something or a target stick (basically a small ball on a stick).  Targets help communicate the area or object you’d like the animal to interact with 

 

I sat on the floor with my househens and gave it a shot.  I put an orange dot on a piece of paper, and when Adorasaurus (Dora) noticed it, she got a click and a treat.  Then she got the reinforcement when she pecked it.  Then the dot was moved to a xylophone.  

 

I filmed the process–it took 7 minutes. 

 

Once BuckBeak saw what Dora was doing, she learned from Dora.  Chickens can learn behaviors from other chickens–even from videos of chickens.​

Chickens can learn a lot of things!  Including:

Coming when you call their name

Jumping through hoops

Agility and obstacle courses

Counting

Selecting shapes

Selecting colors

Fetching

 

So far, Dora and BuckBeak have played:
Toy Piano

Xylophone

Cymbal

Drum

Violin

Autoharp

 

And each bird has instruments she prefers.  Sometimes, if they can reach an instrument laying around the house, they’ll play it without any involvement from me!  They also select cards--something I didn't even have to teach them!

 

I involve the girls in many of my pieces.  I want people to see that chickens are not the stupid, worthless hunks of flesh we’re led to believe.  They are individuals with personalities and playfulness.  They love affection and form strong bonds with each other and humans.  

They have performed in Worm Moon, Pink Moon, Doopamine Lope, Oh, Fortuna!, and Linger Fickin' God and were featured in Murphy 4017.  BuckBeak played a role in a production of The Water Station.

 

When seeing us perform, people often think I just place food on instruments.  I never do this–it would defeat the purpose. By teaching them a skill, and allowing them to play (or not!) they are elevated to co-creators, collaborators—to Chicken Composers!

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