Chickens are entertaining. They are full of personality and after just one look through Facebook or Instagram’s #ChickensofInstagram, it’s no surprise that their endearing antics are cause for their increasing popularity. It doesn’t take long for a new chicken owner to easily identify unique personality traits in each of their birds. During the warmer months, free range and backyard chickens keep themselves happy and busy by foraging in grasses and weeds, chasing and eating bugs, roaming their yard, dust bathing and more.
When it comes to chickens, boredom can be a real problem. In the northern regions of the country, when the weather turns colder, daylight hours dwindle, more extreme weather sets in, outside free-range time is reduced and the antics can turn to boredom. Even in warmer climates, boredom can set in when chickens are confined for too long of a time period, or when they tire of their surroundings. When there isn’t enough to keep them busy, chickens turn to unhealthy activities such as picking at themselves and one another. This can lead to feather loss, injury and other behavior issues within the flock.
Changing things up a bit in the coop can go a long way toward alleviating boredom and avoiding unhealthy behaviors. Chickens are curious animals, and we have found that pretty much anything new will attract their attention.
Here are a few or our favorite ideas our readers have shared with us to keep their flock happy and busy:
- PECKING PIÑATA — Tie a piece of twine around a head of cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower or broccoli and hang it where your chickens can peck at it. The movement of the hanging piñata keeps your flock busy as they dodge and peck at it.
- HANGING CORNUCOPIA — A variation of the piñata, hang a wire basket full of chunks of various vegetables, fruits, and even grasses or straw. This idea is a great solution when you don’t have a full head of cabbage or lettuce, or want to clean out the fridge! We recommend changing the basket out frequently or just putting it out for a short time each day. This keeps them interested and keeps the treats fresh.
- GRUBBLIES — Chickens love Grubblies. Vary how you serve up these popular soldier fly larvae treats: place them around the yard or coop to encourage your flock to search them out, have a ‘Grubblies Happy Hour’ for your chicks to break up the day, and watch how quickly your chickens come running. Check out this video our friends at Grubbly Farms posted on their Facebook page of Natasza, a Polish hen, flying 25 feet for her Grubblies.
- FORAGING CAKES — Foraging Cakes are a nutritional supplement made of seeds, nuts, fruits, and grains pressed into a solid block to stimulate the natural foraging behavior, reduce boredom and unwanted behaviors, and help promote muscle tone and strength. Available in 3 varieties: Original for chickens, Optimal for mixed flocks, and BabyCakes for younger chicks.
- STRAW — Placing bales or piles of hay near the coop or in the run can be a great boredom buster for your flock. Their natural foraging instinct will keep them busy as they pick through the straw looking for bugs and seeds. Bales of hay also make a great insulator for cold-weather climates when placed around the outside of your coop. If you have hay inside your coop, just be watchful that it does not become damp and trap moisture.
- GRASSES — Chickens love foraging for bugs and seeds in grasses, but grassy areas are not always available in the winter months. Our own flock enjoys sprouted Proso (millet), which we grow indoors, with water, in small reusable trays to give our home flock a fun treat. For those that live in more urban settings and may not have access to hay, a planter filled with various grasses makes a great substitute. Just fill a low-profile planter with dirt and grass seed, then add water. Once the grass it tall enough, place it in your run. Sprinkle in a tiny bit of feed or seeds to make it more of a challenge!
- DIRT BATH — It may sound funny, but a dirty chicken is a happy chicken. Chickens have to dust bathe to keep themselves free of external parasites including lice and mites. These parasites can harm their feathers and cause many health problems. Making a dust bath for your chickens helps ensure that the dirt they bathe in is not full of droppings or manure, dead or decaying matter, or other harmful bacteria. You can make your own dust bath out of just about any container that your chickens can get in to — an old sand box, a shallow box or tub, an old tire, etc. — and then just fill it with Murray’s Dusting Powder. Your flock will take it from there!
- CHANGE UP THE COOP — Adding a few items to the coop here and there will certainly get the attention of your chickens. Try adding an extra perch like our heated Thermo Chicken Perch, a chicken swing, a shatter-proof mirror, or a new watering tank or feeder. Changing it up occasionally by rotating in and out some of the items in their coop will keep your birds on their feet.
In addition to these items, it’s safe to say that anything new will keep your flock busy — and a busy chicken is much healthier than a bored chicken. Do you have more boredom buster ideas? Share them with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.