If your flock is limited to a coop or run, you have probably witnessed your chickens showing signs of boredom and weariness. Most chicken breeds delight in staying occupied due to their strong pecking instincts and nosy nature; however, the lack of grass, weeds, and bugs to forage on in the winter months can make boredom much more common for your hens.
While boredom in itself is unpleasant for your flock, it can lead to harmful changes in behavior and bad habits. Chickens that are not able to free range can develop cabin coop fever, and are more likely to heckle and bully each other by engaging in altercations, pecking, and feather plucking. Over time, these behaviors can lead to feather loss or other injuries.
In addition to squabbles, remaining cooped up for a long period of time can also trigger egg eating. While pecking at and eating their own eggs may start as a result of boredom, once chickens have a taste of what is inside, it can be a very hard habit to break and can negatively impact your ability to harvest fresh eggs.
Boredom behaviors are more likely to occur if your chickens do not have sufficient space, so making sure that your girls have as large of a coop and run as possible, is an important first step. If you are already providing your hens with ample space and they are still showing signs of winter boredom, providing toys and other boredom busters helps keep them busy, increases their mental stimulation, and prevents them from living out a boring existence in their coop and run.
Boredom in your chicken flock caused by being cooped up can be easily alleviated using some of these simple boredom hacks.
1. Ladders & Perches
Chickens love to hop on things and seize a bird's eye view of the world around them. Ladders and perches provide a simple and EZ solution to encourage your chickens to hop up to higher ground. Up here, they stay occupied by watching what goes on outside the run. Including a ladder or perch in the run can also be a boredom buster for you! Unleash your creative side by using a mixture of boards, branches, ladders, or a variety of materials to create a multi-leveled chicken jungle gym.
2. Leaves, Straw & Hay Bales
Adding organic materials such as hay, alfalfa, straw, or leaves to your chickens' run during the winter can be an excellent way to combat boredom within your flock. Because chickens have a natural pecking instinct, piles of leaves or hay will encourage them to peck, scratch, and explore to their hearts desire. Inserting a bale of hay or pile of leaves is irresistible to chickens as they will be inclined to scratch and kick around the materials until the pile is flattened. Hiding seeds, bugs, or other treats into the piles can also supply them with tasty incentives for their hard work.
If you want to provide your hens with an extended distraction, you can get creative with a straw maze. By using several bales of hay, straw, or alfalfa, you can create a whole new world of nooks and crannies for them to explore.
3. Poultry Piñatas
Another way to appeal to the pecking nature of your hens during the winter to curb their boredom is by preparing a tasty piñata for their run. As you know, chickens love to peck, and when they have both a moving and edible object to peck at, they will remain entertained for hours.
There are a few different vegetables that you can use to craft the perfect chicken piñata. The most common ingredients are cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or apples. Hang it by a rope or with twine and the spinning ball will keep your flock busy as they peck, dodge, and snack on their tethered treat.
4. Chicken Swings
Most chicken keepers know that their birds love to perch and will hop on to anything they can lay their feet on, especially when it leads to higher ground. Similar to ladders and perches, chicken swings offer your hens a place to perch that will also help keep them entertained. While entertaining your hens, swinging can also sooth them as they gently sway back and forth. However, not all chickens will love swings, so if you have a younger flock that can be easily trained, they will be more inclined to use it.
Lastly, you can curb your hens winter boredom by installing a mirror or other reflective objects. In addition to being able to admire their good looks and playfully interact with their reflections, reflective materials help entertain your flock by inspiring them to chase lights that bounce off of the mirror. However, make sure that any mirrors that will be installed in the coop or run are shatterproof, as not to break by pecking and cause shattered glass that could potentially injure your girls.
There are many options available to liven up your flock during the winter months. Feel free to change it up occasionally by rotating in and out the different items and activities to keep them interested and on their toes. Remember, a busy chicken is much happier and healthier than a bored chicken!