Chicken Winter Boredom Busters! How to Keep Your Hens Happy During Winter

Chicken Winter Boredom Busters! How to Keep Your Hens Happy During Winter Blog Cover

The cold, gloomy days of winter are here and everyone can get bored, even chickens! Boredom leads to mischief such as feather picking, egg eating, squabbling and a miserable disposition.

We have put together some ideas for helping to relieve boredom for your flock and to help them to live together harmoniously throughout the winter months.

The number one cause of mischief is lack of space for everyone. We all need personal space, some need more than others. The more timid members of your flock would certainly appreciate some quiet, darkened space to escape the more pushy members of your flock!

I have the luxury of coops within a barn, so there is plenty of space for everyone, but for those of you not so fortunate, here’s some easy tips to keep your ladies happy and busy during winter.

Food and Water Boredom Busters

The first thing you can do to keep your hens active during the day is to make sure they always have access to feeders and drinkers- the more dominant hens will ‘guard’ the feeders if they are feeling particularly crabby that day.

Here are some great ways you can use feed to keep your hens busy:

  • A treat each day such as a handful of scratch, will keep them busy for a while. They love to scratch around finding little food nuggets; it’s like a treasure hunt for them! Make sure you spread it well so everyone has a chance to find some.
  • Warm oatmeal in the morning. A good way to start the day for humans and chickens! I mix the oatmeal with water and once cooked, stir in a big dollop of natural yoghurt. Make sure you stand back when they attack the oatmeal- it flies everywhere!
  • A rolling treat dispenser full of scratch or mealworms will start off a game of hen ‘football’. Once they get the idea that treats fall out when the dispenser rolls, it’s hilarious to watch them. One dispenser per 5-6 hens is what I would recommend.
  • A flock block to peck at will also help to relieve boredom. If you hang it inside the coop they can peck away when they get the urge. The fats’ contained within the suet and seeds will also help to keep them warm over the winter night.
Break Boredom with Flock Block
Help Break Boredom with a home made Flock Block
  • Pumpkins- you don’t want them anymore so give them to the girls. I cut mine open (I also bake them in the oven for an hour) to entice them to peck away at it.

Exercise Boredom Busters

In addition to food you can also encourage them to exercise as a way to keep active.

It’s important for them to get some exercise over the colder months. Although they are very reluctant to walk on snow and ice, if you shovel a path and throw down straw, leaves, pine needles etc. they will not only walk on it, but check it out for tasty morsels too!

Chickens Eating Straw
The girls inspecting freshly laid straw

Here are some great ways to get them to exercise:

  • Cabbage tetherball is a good way to get a little exercise. In the winter months hang the cabbage just above beak height, that way they have to jump a little to get some greens!
  • A variety of perches- different types, different heights will add to the activities. I have several girls who use them like they’re having a day at the gym!
  • Placing logs or tree stumps around the coop adds interest for them, especially if they can pry off the bark and check it out for insects.
  • Old ladders and step ladders can provide exercise and personal space.
  • Dust bathing- mine have the barn floor, but you can easily make an inside dust bath for them.
  • Make a hay/leaf/straw pile- the ladies will spread it far and wide in their quest for bugs or seeds! When I clean out their coop, I simply put down the straw in a pile and have them arrange their ‘furniture’!
  • Mirrors- some people put in mirrors for their chickens. Apparently they love to admire themselves! Perhaps not a good idea if you have a rooster – he may think there is an intruder in the camp.

Coop Boredom Busters

If you can provide different levels on which they can roost, it helps tremendously.

When the big girls start to pick at my bantams, the bantams simply fly up out of reach! By providing this you are ensuring that the smaller ones can get out of the way- it also gives them some much needed exercise.

Chicken Exercise

If you are able to set up some sort of quiet, dark areas for the more timid members that would be beneficial. Some chickens like a bit of ‘alone’ time and a peaceful place to do it in.

A ‘quick and dirty’ quiet spot could be a pallet angled against the side of a coop, or a small tarp arranged in a similar fashion.

You also need to provide variety in bedding or scratching areas- this is why I collect the pine needles and leaves in the fall. I will dump a bag into the run and let them pick through it- keeps them busy for ages.

If you are able to spend extra time with them it’s beneficial- to them and you. My chickens are unpaid psychotherapists- I know they will keep all my secrets!

Summary

Winter can be a terribly boring time for chickens… but it doesn’t have to be!

Your birds need space and variety to keep them from picking at each other. Quiet, darkened areas away from the rest of the flock are ideal for the quieter flock members.

Scratch grains or cracked corn sprinkled on the floor is always a reliable attention grabber. Please remember when giving treats- everything in moderation. Fat hens are not healthy hens.

By providing your hens with activities and mental stimulation, you are ensuring that everyone gets through the winter whilst staying healthy- this is important if you want your girls to lay eggs in the spring/summer.

If you have a trick or two for keeping them occupied, please share them with us! We would love to hear from you!

Comments

  1. Mary says

    My girls love the straw and the leaves. Every fall, I get a minimum of three bales of straw and cut the cords on them periodically throughout the winter. This not only helps insulate the coop (we do deep litter method), but also gives them something to do in breaking up the bales of straw. (It usually takes them about a week or so to break apart the straw, then they pick through and scatter the straw throughout the coop.) I will also dump a huge garbage bag of dried leaves I’ve collected (and usually mulched) in the run every few weeks. The first few times I did this, they freaked out and were scared, but now when I haul the bag in, I have to shoo them out of the way before I can dump the contents.

  2. Ambrose Underberg says

    thanks for the advice. I piled hay up and in just a few minutes there wasn t a pile, of course they played king of the hill for the first few minutes. Then put a pile of dirt in and off they went to check it out to take their dirt bath.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      It’s a great way to keep them happy isn’t it Ambrose!

      Glad they liked the suggestion 🙂

  3. Janette Kerrison says

    We rake the moss out of the lawn, they love it! I agree that anything new scares my girls, even a different coloured plastic bag to collect the moss in sends them flying. Hilarious to watch though. Thanks for suggestions as one of my chickens has started to take feathers from the other two and winter’s not started yet.

  4. Mary says

    It’s spring and we’re having pecking problems. They recently moved to a larger coop and run. We’ve upped their protein. We’ve given them more to do. I’m super worried that it doesn’t seem to be helping as of yet and they never do t when we’re out there so I don’t know if there is one bully, the one barely missing feathers, or if they’re all sort of doing it. I know it can be flock contagious. I’m running out of ideas and my kids love these girls and I don’t want to cull the flock. I know this thread is old, but I’m taking all of your suggestions to heart and would love it anyone had more

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Mary,

      Have you tried using an anti-peck cream? This will help stop the pecking and identify the culprits!

      Claire

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *