It seems as though spring is taking forever to … well, spring. There’s one thing I have learned about chickens is they need stuff to do.
Keeping them occupied in their run especially in winter time can be a challenge. I also discovered by reading several chicken Facebook pages, that if they aren’t kept busy and their run is small, they are likely to pick on each other.
Size Does Matter
We all know the saying and it’s true when it comes to the run for your chickens. Of course if you can safely free range your birds then that is ideal. As I said in previous blogs, we have hawks and now bald eagles flying overhead daily due to the nearby park. I only free range the hens when I’m around to watch them.
This leaves a lot of their time spent in their run. We have an American Coop with a 6’ by 12’ footprint, plus we added a 7’ by 8’ pergola, giving them a total of 128 square feet. Not too shabby for six hens.
As the weather warms up, and the days get longer, it’s easier to let them out in their large fenced-in area to free range. Plus, warmer temps means more delicious bugs for the girls to find while foraging.
Truth be told, if I had more room, I would have a larger run.
There’s So Much Room for Activity
I’m certain there is plenty of room for the chickens in their run to keep them happy while there are in there. However, I give them lots of things to do to keep them occupied. For instance, there are places to roost (do not make them higher than your henhouse roosting bars!). There’s a ramp that goes up to a cedar log that is on two tree stumps, that’s a favorite hangout place to shout out their egg songs or peruse the neighborhood.
I made a swing, but I think I need to modify it, because there’s no interest in it. I also put in a half ladder and a stool. I found that these places not only give them a different viewpoint, but allows them a place to get away from each other if one hen is picking on another, as chickens often do.
I put up a chain where I hang cabbage for them and a suet container (top loaders are best for this) so I can stuff it with greens for them to peck at. These are all considered ‘boredom busters’ for chickens. It keeps their minds and bodies busy. All good things during colder months or when they are confined to their run.
Toys, Treats, and Dust Baths
I even bought a plastic cylinder toy that gets fill with scratch and rolls and dispenses food. (I have a ball too that does the same). Thinking that this type of interactive is great for my dogs, I figured the chickens would love it. But of course, chickens being chickens, buried the toy after about an hour. I didn’t see it again for weeks when they unearthed it and it was filled with dirt. Oh well.
I put in a xylophone that I tried to get them to use (not a big hit) and a mirror, which they do use at times. I give them different treats in bowls to enjoy too. Fermented feed (more on that in a later blog), or a bowl filled with grapes (cut in half), barley, scratch seeds, mealworms — typical chicken treats.
Another great addition is a galvanized tub that I fill with loose garden dirt, DE (diatomaceous earth), and sometimes ash from the fireplace in the winter, to give them a special place in their run for dirt baths. They dig big holes and make their own dirt baths, but I notice that they seem to love having a special tub for bathing. It’s easy to keep clean from droppings as I change out the dirt frequently and add more DE. They all visit it often throughout the day. Many times I will see both barred rocks in there at the same time. Even three chickens at once!
The important thing is my chickens are busy, occupied, and happy. Happy hens are healthier and less likely to pick on each other. From things I read, this fighting and bickering can get pretty brutal. There is definitely a pecking order and I do see that the two youngest, my Buff Orpington and my Easter Egger, are on the bottom of this pecking order and get bullied more than the others, but I’m sure it’s all completely normal.
So just keep in mind that you can never have a big enough run for your chickens and please give them something to do during the day if they aren’t free ranging.
All in all, I think my girls are happy with their digs and all the things they have to do and eat are keeping them occupied and spoiled. It’s a great arrangement for 5-6 eggs daily.
Until next time,
Ingrid — Crazy Chicken Lady in Training