Boredom is a common problem for chickens… Not only are chickens are susceptible to it, but bored birds cause mischief… Which can be anything from egg-eating and plucking one another’s feathers out to digging potholes in the run and removing bedding from the nest boxes. 😧 Bored chickens cause extra trouble and work. 🙁 However, more critically, long term birdie boredom leads to excessive stress (which often leads to health problems), canibalism and reduced egg production. In this article, I include some tips on how to help bust birdie boredom!
Tips for Keeping Birdie Boredom at Bay
Though many don’t think about it, bedding can play a huge role in chicken boredom. Hard packed dirt run floors can be great fas far as cost is concerned. However, it leaves chickens little to scratch in. As a consequence, they get bored much quicker. Putting down some fresh grass clippings can instantly bust birdie boredom. Another option is a simple pile of dirt/mulch in the run.
Time for a Bath!
Dust bathing is something that all chickens need to do to maintain proper hygiene. Not only does dust bathing help chickens stay occupied, but it helps them relax. Additionally, regular dust baths keeps external parasites at away (a common winter weather poultry problem that you can read more about here: Preventing & Treating External Parasites in Poultry).
Note: An easy way to fashion a dust bath is a simple kiddy pool filled with dust. If you do not have a covered run that will keep dust from becoming mud, a simple tarp tent may suffice. Though it’s nothin’ fancy, it is fully functional and cost-effective.
Chickens need space. The more, the better. If chickens don’t have enough space, they will get bored and stressed. If chickens have been free ranged for some time, they become accustomed to it. Then, when penned, it is easier for them to get bored and cause problems. For this reason, when an onset of bad weather is coming, I think it a good idea to acclimate chickens to smaller spaces before they are confined long-term.
If you plan to confine chickens, ensure that there is enough perching. Chickens not only love to perch but they need to get away from one another when necessary. Additionally, if you plan to confine the birds, make sure the chicken area is secure… not just because of predators… chickens can be devious escape artists…
Boredom Busting Birdie Snacks
Chickens are foraging omnivores. They love to hunt for their food. As one chicken expert once said, “A chicken’s main goal in life is to eat, not be eaten and make more chickens”. Thus, in theory, eating consumes about 33% of a chicken’s life purpose… And it shows. Chickens where designed to hunt for food. They are built for it and have strong instincts that compel them to it. For this reason, food that takes awhile to find and eat (while not being very filling) can be a huge help when staving off boredom.
Note: Be sure to remove uneaten scraps from the chicken area when done. Uneaten scraps can grow bacteria and mold as well as attract flies.
Sweet Apple Cores
Apple cores are an excellent snack for chickens. They take awhile to eat, chickens love them and they are chock full of nutrients (antioxidants, vitamin C, fiber and the list goes on!). After finishing an apple, simply toss in the core and watch the birds get busy! 🍎
Lettuce & Cabbage
Lettuce and cabbage are light, time consuming and chickens love them! If you buy whole lettuce or cabbage heads, the cores/ends make perfect boredom-staving birdie snacks. Additionally, cabbage is full of prebiotics (food for healthy gut bacteria) which may help keep chickens’ digestive systems healthy.
Tip: Try hanging the cabbage to keep it from getting dirty and icky while chickens eat it. One way to do this is by cutting a hole through the core, threading a rope through the hole and hanging it.
Weeds & Greens
Have a garden? If you do, then tada! There’ll be weeds. Just toss ’em in the coop! Not only are most plants good for chickens but they keep those biddies busy!
Tip: Grasses, dandelions minor’s lettuce and clovers are some all-time favorites! 🌱☘
Treat Ball Toys
Toys are fun, even for chickens! Most tractor supply stores sell bird toys to fill with seed. However, a cheaper way is to just use a water bottle. Simply remove the label off of a plastic water bottle, poke a few holes in it and fill with wild bird seed. Leave it in the coop and the chickens will happily peck away for hours!
Scratch blocks are blocks are compact seed blocks. In order for chickens to get the seed, diligent work is required… but the tasty reward is worth it!
Tip: Find a safe, dry place for a scratch block before making or buying one. Scratch blocks often make a mess as they are broken down by chickens. Additionally, moisture can make them spoil.
Chickens love melons! Just toss a couple in the coop and it’ll keep chickens busy. They’ll end up paper thin once the chickens get through with them! (I tried this with a cantaloup… After 12 hours with the chickens, it was as thin as tracing paper!).
Corn on the Cob Kabob!
Chickens love corn! Though to much corn is not good for chickens (it lacks essential macro and micro nutrients that chickens need to stay healthy), a little fresh corn keeps chickens busy and happy. This ‘Corn on the Cob Kabob’ will have the chooks dancing with anticipation! Simply mount the corn to keep chickens from getting their food messy. You can build a simple, practical, mess free way to make a Corn (or other veggie) Kabob here: Good Home Design: Chicken Feeders
Note on Breeds
If you are considering chickens, but do not have them yet, I highly advise taking stock of the amount of occupation you have to offer the birds. If you have less space or a manicured yard, I recommend looking into low activity level breeds (breeds that do not have a strong foraging instincts). Such breeds will not scratch as much or need as much to do. However, they are often more dependent on people. Sultans and Cochins as well as many Bantam Chickens (such as Belgian D’Uccle Bantams) are such breeds.