Chickens really live their best lives when they are free ranging outside. Unfortunately, not everyone has the option of letting their chickens out of the coop. Space restrictions, local ordinances, and job schedules are just a few of the reasons why many chickens are cooped up all day.
Owning animals is like being a zookeeper. A good zookeeper takes care of the physical needs of an animal. However, a great zookeeper comes up with ways to keep their animals’s minds healthy and active! It’s called enrichment! There are countless ways to provide your flock something to keep their brains busy.
That being said, chickens are simple creatures, and can live a happy and productive existence in a coop. Since we love them, we want them to have fulfilling lives. Here four affordable ways to give your flock enrichment!
Provide a dust bathing area.
Chickens actually NEED a place on the coop floor to dust bathe in order to stay healthy. Part of a chicken’s daily routine is covering her feathers in fine dust, all the way down to the skin. After kicking around on her side, she will quickly hop up, and shimmy all the dirt, dust, and parasites off her feathers!
Add a dust area in your coop by clearing a clean 2ft. x 2ft. square on the ground. Leave it as dry as possible and add in a few buckets of dirt from anywhere on your property. There’s no need to use a tray, they’ll soon scratch all the dust out and around!
Put tree branches in the coop.
Chickens, like most birds, love to be up high. Their natural instinct to perch, leaves them always looking for the highest possible spot to rest. You can give them some new furniture simply by bringing in tree branches! The bark will help file down their toenails, as well as help work their muscles. The branches might last a few months before they’ll need to be replaced, and by then your flock might be ready for some new scenery anyway!
Rotate hanging treats periodically.
There are tons of resources and ideas for hanging chicken treats out there! In fact, I’m pretty sure there are some on the Hoover’s blog already! Whole cabbage heads, pumpkins, frozen watermelon; the possibilities are endless! Yummy snacks are always a great motivator to get chickens moving!
Give them a chance to hunt.
Chickens are meant to forage for their food all day. In today’s world of pampered pullets and designer coops, our chickens are often given 24/7 access to feed. This is fine! However, is it fun? Nothing pleases a hen more than being able to scratch for her food. Try broadcast feeding some yummy treats like whole corn, sunflower seeds, or dried mealworms. Speaking of mealworms, for even fresher insects, you can pickup some live mealworms or crickets from pet stores. They’ll make a great source of protein for your birds, and will be entertaining as well!
There are many ways still to entertain your chickens without breaking the piggy bank. Let us know some of your favorite ways to enrich the lives of your flock down below!