Chickens may seem like simple livestock, but they are actually intelligent, curious birds. Keeping your flock entertained can help them stay healthier and happier, making them a more productive part of your farm.
Is Boredom Bad?
Inexperienced chicken-keepers often believe that overstimulation can lead to flock problems, but in fact the opposite is true. If chickens are bored and listless, a variety of difficulties can arise, including…
- Aggression: When chicks are bored, they may become irritated more quickly and can start pecking or attacking other flock members. In extreme cases, injuries or even cannibalism can result.
- Poor Productivity: Bored hens often have lower laying rates than hens with adequate stimulation. If chickens are inactive, they will develop poor quality meat with a higher fat composition rather than richer protein.
- Slower Reflexes: If chicks are not alert, they may not be able to react quickly in case of threats. This can make them more vulnerable to predators such as rats, snakes and raccoons, which can lead to flock fatalities.
- Stress: When chicks and chickens are bored, they can become generally stressed. This makes them more at risk for diseases and overall poor health.
Fortunately, it is easy to take steps to keep chicks thoughtfully entertained and avoid the difficulties that can come from a bored flock.
8 Fun, Free Ways to Keep Chicks Entertained
It doesn’t cost a lot to provide your chicks with adequate engagement and entertainment, and with a little bit of creativity you can offer your flock plenty of fun.
A simple perch can give your chicks a new worldview just by changing their elevation. Even better are multi-level perches that chickens can climb and explore. Stumps of different heights and sizes, sturdy branches or logs, an A-frame ladder or even an old wooden chair can be a unique perch. Be sure the perches are free of sharp edges that could cause injuries, however, and do not position them too close to fences or areas where chickens could escape.
A variety of reflective surfaces in the coop can entertain chicks for hours. They may chase the moving sparkles and lights, or simply interact with their own reflections. Hang old CDs, DVDs or other reflective items from strings that will twist and turn, or put a larger mirror where the chickens can easily see it. Use sturdy, unbreakable mirrors, however, to avoid the risk of shattered glass that can cause severe injuries.
A change in the feeding routine can be a welcome break for your flock. A warm mash, peanut butter smeared on a log, unique feed cakes, fruit, melon rinds or a lettuce or cabbage head can all be great treats to entertain chicks. When you do provide treats, however, adjust other feeding options appropriately to avoid overfeeding.
Tetherball is a fun and easy game to arrange for your chicks. Suspend a healthy treat – a cabbage head, several apples, cucumber, melon half, etc. – from a rope or chain in the middle of the coop, and let the chickens peck away. Not only will they enjoy the treat, but the stimulation of chasing the swinging target will provide exercise and entertainment.
- Scratching Zone
Scratching is a natural foraging technique chickens use, and you can provide a scratching zone in the coop for easy enrichment. Sprinkling seed or corn in the scratch zone will keep the birds amused, but it will be even better if you toss some leaf litter, grass clippings or hay in the area occasionally. Sprinkling raisins, cranberries, grape halves or peas in the area will provide even more treats to keep the birds interested.
- Dust Bath
Chickens love to dust themselves, and dusting helps minimize lice, mites and other feather parasites to keep the birds healthy and comfortable. Provide an area of dry, fine dirt for them to dust and wallow, and enhance the area with wood ash or fine sand to keep it usable. If it gets too packed down for the birds to use easily, raking can help break up clumps and loosen the dirt for better dusting.
- Mystery Maze
It is easy to create a simple maze for chicks to explore. A few hay bales arranged in a simple pattern will give the birds multiple niches to explore, and they will enjoy the challenge even more if there are treats to find along the way. They will even perch on top of the bales for more stimulation.
- Bottle Battle
Pecking is another natural behavior for chickens, and you can take advantage of that with an easy bottle toy. Fill a clean, empty plastic bottle half full of corn, birdseed or chicken pellets, and drill several small holes around the sides of the bottle. Toss it into the coop or pen, and the chickens will happily peck away to enjoy the noise, motion and spilled treats.
Of course, the key to the best chick entertainment is diversity. Chickens will quickly become bored with the same treats, games and distractions, and switching up what entertainment options you provide will continue to keep them engaged and happy.