Winter can be rough on backyard chickens, but not for the reasons you may think. The cold temperatures don’t bother most chickens. After all, they have downy feathers and are equipped for the cold.
The lack of greens, bugs, and even soft ground can be an issue for your chickens though. Chickens love to dig in the dirt, look for bugs, take a dust bath, and eat grass and greens. If those activities are difficult or impossible where you live in the winter, you need to provide some stimulus for your flock. This is will avoid chickens pecking at each other and will generally make them all around healthy and happy.
Here’s a list of boredom busters for your flock in the winter:
Hang cabbage, lettuce heads or any edible stuff:
Greens are much scarcer in the winter, but chickens still need and want them. Getting a head of cabbage and hanging it works great on many levels. Cabbage is a bit tougher to get through than lettuce and will last longer for your chickens.
Hanging it up makes it more challenging for the birds to get to it and gives them an activity to do.
A tip for hanging cabbage is to take a large heavy duty metal hook, like the ones used to hang bicycles in the garage. Just screw the hook into the base of the cabbage then hang it with rope or a chain.
You can also tie a piece of twine at the bottom of a bunch of greens and hang that. Another trick is to stuff greens into a suet cage and hang it so your chickens can poke and shred the foliage.
Grow fodder or sprouts:
Another great way to give your flock some greens is to grow fodder or sprouts. Fodder, in simple terms, is food for livestock, usually dried grasses or hay. For chickens in this case, it’s grain seed that is allowed to grow into green shoots.The birds love it all, the greens, the stems, the seeds, all of it.
You can do a tray or do smaller batches in a ball jar. You can use wheat grass, rye grass, oats, millet, barley, etc. Just soak the seeds for about 24 hours. Then drain and rinse them and spread them out in a tray and place under lights or as close to a light source as possible.
Whether the seeds are in a tray or in ball jars, it’s important to rinse them at least once a day. After a few days they will form roots and watering or misting the mat of roots on the bottom will be easier.
In about a week, you will have fresh grass to feed to your chickens. And they will thank you for it.
Extra roosts, ladders, ramps, and tree stumps:
Give your chickens an obstacle course. Well, not literally, but sort of. Put out new roost bars, small ladders, ramps, or tree stumps for them to jump on and explore. This gives them something to do and a new vantage point to view their world.
There is one caveat though, don’t make the roost bars higher than your flock’s roost bars in their henhouse.
Chickens will look for the highest place to roost and you to make sure they roost safely in their henhouse at night.
Designated dust bath:
The winter time can mean rain, snow, sleet, or frozen ground. Because of this, it makes it more difficult for chickens to dust bathe, which is essential for good health.
Dust baths helps to remove excess oil and parasites such as mites and lice. It even helps maintain the water resistance of their outer feather.
Even with our covered runs, we still like to give the chickens their own special place to have a nice dust bath. You can use practically anything that holds dirt, in this photo we used a galvanized tub. It’s a good idea to add food grade diatomaceous earth and even some ash from a wood burning fireplace.
Leave the leaves:
Scoop up piles of leaves and put them in your chicken run or where your birds free range.
Chickens love to scratch in the leaves and find tiny bugs that usually leave in the wet leaves. They will flatten out a pile in no time. Doing that will compost piles are also a good, mind stimulating activity for your flock.
Suet feeder or flock block:
These are pretty self-explanatory, the key is to give them something to do and make them work for their treats.
We like the suet feeders you get for feeding wild birds and you usually can find a 10 pack of the suet on sale. Just hang them off the hardware cloth or from an S hook on a chain, which works really well.
You can also find recipes to make your own flock block/suet cakes. The ingredients are basic, black oil sunflower seeds, dried fruit, whole grains, and lard or coconut oil.
Halve a melon or pumpkin:
Cantaloupe, watermelon, butternut squash, pumpkin…all of these make fun and nutritional treats for your chickens.
The seeds and the pulp are good for them and, once again, it gives them something to do (spot a theme here?) and will last a while.
Throw a big log in your chicken area, hang a mirror in your run, let them free range in a new area.
Anything new will stimulate your chickens and give them joy. You can even get a big bale of wheat straw and leave it intact without the string, and they will love flattening it out.
You can also throw down the straw if there is snow on the ground to give them something to walk on around their coop.
All of these tips help to prevent boredom for your backyard chickens and prevent them from picking on each other out of frustration.
Remember, there’s a reason we say cooped up!