Easy ideas to keep your girls happy
Chickens are a very Vashon thing. So many people here have their own flocks–I know of at least four flocks all within a rooster’s crow of our house. We took our first plunge into the world of chickens a little over a year ago, and it has been more fun than we ever expected. Our nine chickens are happy, affectionate little creatures and they come running up, clucking, every time they see us. Each hen has her own distinct personality. Some of them like to sit on laps and get petted, and when I talk to them, they all talk back. They also like to get very close to my face and just quietly peer at my features. I guess I must look like a very strange, featherless animal to them.
I always enjoy talking to my coworkers about their flocks, and recently we were talking about ideas to keep our chickens entertained in their coops. Where we live, it can be dangerous to let chickens free range because eagles, coyotes, and raccoons will happily snatch up a fat little chicken for lunch. It’s much safer to leave them in covered runs, but when chickens are confined to even a large run (ours is 16 by 24 feet), they can get bored and develop annoying little behavioral problems.
One of my girls, Pebbles, has been incessantly broody (i.e., trying to hatch the entire flock’s unfertilized eggs) and has started grumpily plucking feathers off the other chickens. Poor Penny now has a bald patch on her back and has been getting sunburned on hot days (she is not quite smart enough to stay in the shade). Another one of my hens, Daisy, has decided that it is a very good idea to eat the freshly-laid eggs of other chickens. We are still trying to break her of her cannibalistic ways, and have recently started leaving golf balls in the nesting boxes to dissuade her from pecking egg-type objects.
I’ve noticed that when I let my chickens out of their run for a few hours of supervised free-ranging on our property each week, they seem much more content and these little behavioral issues decrease. But since they are safely shut in their run the majority of the time, we’ve been working on adding some more interesting play structures and activities to keep them entertained during the day.
One thing I did was add a couple of low perches. For the one pictured above, I found a fallen branch in the wooded part of our property, and stuck it through the top holes of two cinderblocks. The chickens love to stand on the cinderblocks as well as the branch. They often hop up there to see us better when we walk out onto our driveway.
While I was crawling through the woods looking for branches for perches, I also gathered some smaller branches to make the girls a teepee structure for their favorite napping spot. I tied the branches together with rope at the top, and wove in some smaller twigs horizontally at the base. They seem to like hanging out in there–after all, what little girl wouldn’t love a playhouse? I think I might try to train a climbing rose bush up the teepee in the future to create more shade in the summertime. And I’ve read that chickens like to eat fallen rose petals.
We also made a fun climbing structure by mounting some slices of logs onto a post with L brackets. They didn’t want to go up there at first, but most chickens will do just about anything for some dried mealworms. Now they are pretty comfortable hopping up there to get a snack and interact with me at eye level.
Clara built this simple A-frame perch structure for another area of their run. They like to hang out underneath it, and again, will gladly get up on the rungs for some mealworms. Our two younger chickens seem more interested in climbing on these types of structures than our older girls.
For a special treat, I sometimes tie some veggies on a string and hang them from the A-frame perch: instant chicken piñata. They love pecking at it and watching it spin around. It’s just a slightly different way to give them their treats and keep them mentally stimulated.
A sandbox or dustbath is another great idea for a corner of your chicken run. We have very sandy soil on our property, and our chickens take advantage of this by dust bathing anytime, anywhere. But I still wanted to give them a designated space where I could put a mixture from the feed store that is specifically made for chicken dust bathing (yes, our girls are very spoiled). It has diatomaceous earth, along with other good stuff, to clean their feathers and keep mites and other parasites at bay. It is basically a luxury day spa for chickens. Of course, to get Penny to try it out, I had to tempt her in there with some mealworms. But I’m sure they’ll be rolling around in there in no time.
The girls are loving this snack bar area we made for them. Clara used a chainsaw to cut up some logs on our property, and we hung some wire baskets on the wall of the coop. I had designed this area with the idea that the chickens would hop up onto the logs to reach the goodies in the treat baskets. Of course the whole setup was new and frightening, so I ended up taking half of the treats out and laying them out on the logs to tempt the girls to check it out. Now they are comfortable with climbing up there to grab whatever I stuff into the baskets. I like this buffet-style treat area because it keeps more of the treats up off the dirty floor of the run. They do tend to toss things down onto the ground but I think it’s better than nothing.
I highly recommend adding some play structures like these to your chicken run. These fluffy little dinosaur-like creatures are curious and so much more intelligent than we give them credit for. And they are so appreciative when they see me spending time fixing up their space for them–they definitely consider me their “flock mom”. The other day when I came home, my wife was letting the chickens free range, and as soon as I stepped out of the car, all the girls ran up to my feet, crying, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!”
At least, that’s what it sounded like to me ❤