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.
- 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!
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.
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!
An often overlooked activity that chickens love to participate in is dust bathing. Consider it the spa treatment of the chicken world.
Chickens take dust baths to keep themselves parasite free, to control their natural oils, and well, and to relax.
If you’ve ever seen a chicken take a dust bath, you know what I mean. They roll and flap around, and at times, they look as though they are ready to fall asleep.
Giving your girls a dust bath is like therapy for your chickens, so make some room for the new spa in your coop.
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!