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I have been keeping and breeding chickens, ducks, and quails for over 20 years, and during that time hundreds of birds have passed through my homestead. These days I spend much of my time giving chicken keeping and breeding talks at clubs and shows around the country.
One of the many joys of keeping chickens in your backyard is watching the hens scratching around looking for food, and generally enjoying life.
Sometimes your hens can become bored with everyday life, and a bored chicken is a mischievous chicken. Chickens with little to do tend to look for trouble, which usually comes in the form of pecking and bullying a weaker chicken.
In this article, I share 10 different ideas on how best to prevent your chickens from becoming bored.
Do Chickens get Bored?
Whilst I will be the first to admit that chickens are not necessarily deep thinkers, and they don’t need access to a wide range of classical literature to keep them stimulated, they do need a basic level of entertainment to prevent boredom from setting in.
When you look at your chicken run, there is a good chance the entire thing is made up of 4 walls, a roof, a coop, a feeder, and a waterer. It is not exactly a theme park for your feathered friends!
In my experience, when chickens are kept in the most basic of enclosures, there is little for them to do other than eat, poop, and lay eggs.
If they have been in the run for more than a couple of months, there is even a good chance all the grass has gone and they have eaten any worms that were living beneath the surface.
It should not be surprising that once boredom sets in your chickens start to look to make their own entertainment.
Is it a problem if chickens get bored?
Whilst on the surface it may not seem like a major issue if your chickens are bored, the reality is, once they start looking for something to do, the thing they usually find is pecking another member of the flock.
If your chickens are bored, there is a good chance that whichever chicken sits lowest in the pecking order is going to get bullied.
Chickens really are unpleasant animals when they want to be. I have seen hens on other homesteads that were so badly bullied they had huge open sores on their back that the other hens would pick at continually.
Chickens can even bully another bird to the point of killing it, after which, they turn their attention to the next weakest member of their flock.
The other thing bored chickens are notorious for is breaking and eating their own eggs.
I have spoken to countless chicken keepers who were suffering with their chickens eating their own eggs, and almost every time the solution to the problem was giving the hens more things to do with their time.
If you believe your chickens may be bored, it is essential you provide some stimulation for them.
How To Entertain Chickens to Prevent Boredom?
There are a number of things we can do for our chickens to create some entertainment and reduce the chances of boredom setting in.
Below I have listed the 10 ways I have found to prevent my own hens from getting bored. You would not have to implement all 10, but choosing just 2 or 3 items off the list will make the difference between your hens becoming bored, and them being stimulated day after day.
10 suggestions for preventing chickens from Getting bored
1. Add multiple levels to your run using pallets or straw bales
One of the simplest ways to make your chicken’s enclosure more interesting is to add multiple levels.
Chickens have a strong hierarchical structure within their flock, and those who are at the top of the pecking order get to sleep on the highest roosts.
We can exploit this by adding various different levels through the chicken’s enclosure using either pallets or straw bales. When we add two or three stacks of pallets or bales of straw we create different levels for the chickens, and they will then spend much of their time climbing up these structures trying to be the highest chicken.
However, as an individual chicken can only ever occupy one spot, they will constantly move from stack to stack trying to be the chicken at the highest point.
Adding multiple levels is probably one of the easiest ways to prevent your chickens from becoming bored.
2. Places perches at different heights in the run
In a similar fashion to creating levels using pallets, adding perches at different heights around the enclosure will encourage your chickens to move from point to point, always trying to occupy the highest perch.
I have used this technique to great effect in smaller runs where it was not feasible to put two or three stacks of straw bales into the run.
Perches can be made of thin scraps of timber, or even small branches removed from surrounding trees.
I typically place them in the corners of the run as it is the easiest way to fix them in place, but with a bit of effort, additional perches can be fitted all around an enclosure.
Adding perches is another way to reduce boredom, and once the perches are in place, they do not generally require any additional input from the homesteader.
3. Feed your hens live food they have to catch
There are many different live foods we can give our hens, but rather than putting the live foods in a bowl for the hens to scoff in a matter of minutes, try scattering them around the run so the hens have to actively look for them.
Worms, mealworms, and crickets are great live foods that you can scatter.
Alternatively, place the live food under small sheets of timber so the hens have to wait for them to crawl out before they can eat them.
Whilst it is not feasible to have live food running around the chicken enclosure all day every day, adding them once a week is another way to alleviate the boredom, if only for that day.
4. Place trays of lettuce or grass in the run
When you order your lettuce seeds or pick a small packet up from your local store, there is a good chance the packet contains 1,000 to 4,000 seeds. That is an awful lot of lettuces to grow in a single season.
Rather than wasting the lettuce seeds, grow half a dozen trays for the chickens.
All you need do is add potting soil to the trays, sow the seeds and keep them watered. Once the lettuces are a decent size, place one of the trays in the chicken’s enclosure.
The hens will quickly eat all the tender lettuce leaves, but then for the next few days they will pick at the stumps of the plants, then they will use the potting compost as a dust bath.
The following week remove the empty tray and add another with fresh lettuce growing in it.
This technique also works well with grass seeds, crimson clover, and mustard seeds.
5. Allow your chickens to free-range outside the run
One of the easiest ways to prevent boredom is to allow your chickens some supervised free-ranging outside of their enclosure.
Two or three times a week, ideally when you are working in and around the chicken’s enclosure, let them out for a brief walk around.
It is important to make sure your chickens do not wander too far from the enclosure, and always be aware of potential predators, including hawks, that will happily swoop down and take a chicken.
Allowing your chickens to partially free range will help prevent them from becoming bored with their regular soundings.
I use this technique a lot, especially with my juvenile chickens, as they seem to become bored more quickly than the older birds.
6. Fit a chicken swing
If you have never seen one of these before, you will be amazed watching your chickens swinging back and forth as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
A chicken swing is exactly what it sounds like, a swing that the chickens can hop on and off of whenever they wish.
Chicken swings can either be purchased from a local pet store (I ordered the one in the picture from Amazon.com), or you could make your own from a small length of timber and a piece of rope.
A piece of timber with a diameter of around 1″ (2.5cm) will be ideal for most breeds of chickens.
Adding one or two chicken swings to an enclosure is another excellent way to prevent your chickens from getting bored.
7. Add a couple of mirrors around the run
If you have ever kept a budgie, you will know that adding a mirror is a great way to keep a budgie from getting bored and help it think it has company.
Believe it or not, adding a couple of mirrors around your chicken coop will have the same effect.
Chickens are naturally competitive, and when a new arrival appears in the coop, thanks to the mirror, the chickens will spend hours weighing up the new member of the flock, often even showing off to it.
This technique is great in an all-female flock. However, if you have a rooster, use mirrors with caution. I have heard of roosters exhausting themselves trying to outdo their own reflection in a mirror.
I will usually place two or three mirrors around the enclosure, moving them occasionally to keep things interesting for my hens.
8. Place pieces of chopped fruit around the run
Placing pieces of chopped fruit around the hen’s enclosure not only helps prevent them from getting bored but is also a great way to add extra vitamins and nutrients to their diet.
Fruits like melon, apples, bananas, tomatoes, and mangos can be chopped up and placed around the coop.
Your chickens will spend hours pecking at the fruits, stripping all of the flesh off and leaving only the skin laying on the floor of the run.
Hanging the fruits on pieces of string from the roof of the run is another way to create entertainment for your chickens (see more below with suggestion number 9).
Placing the fruits in the freezer for a couple of hours before placing them in the chicken’s run not only helps keep the hens cool in the summer months but also means it takes the chickens longer to eat the fruit.
A regular piece of melon dropped into the run will last for just a few minutes. Adding a frozen piece of melon instead will mean it can take several hours for the hens to peck their way through it.
9. Hang treats from the roof of their enclosure
As mentioned above, hanging treats from the roof of the run is a great way to keep your hens entertained.
The great thing about hanging the treats is it takes a lot of pecking from the chickens before they manage to eat it all. Each time the hens’ peck at the hanging treat a little tiny piece falls off, but then the treat swings freely and the hens have to wait for it to stop so they can peck at it once again.
You can purchase chicken treats from your local pet store, or you can hang pieces of fruit or vegetable. I frequently hang pieces of cucumber, broccoli heads, and apples on pieces of string.
Your chickens will spend hours pecking at the hanging treats.
10. Freeze treats in ice blocks
Freezing treats in a block of ice is another excellent way to keep your chickens from getting bored, and provide them with ice to help them cool down in the summer months.
I like to freeze berries, nuts, seeds, or pieces of chopped fruit in a container of water. Once frozen, place the block of ice in the run and let the chickens peck at it.
Even if they are not interested in pecking at the block of ice, as it slowly melts it will reveal more and more treats for the chickens to help themselves to.
I use this method a lot during the summer. I can have 10 or more blocks of ice with treats in sitting in my freezers at any one time, just waiting to be deployed to the chicken runs.
Almost anything a chicken can eat can be frozen in a block of ice for them to pick at.
A chicken getting bored is not always the first thing keepers consider. However, a bored chicken is a chicken that is very likely to spend time pecking at fellow members of its flock.
It can be tricky to know if your chickens are bored or not, but if you find there is bullying in the run or one chicken is spending a lot of time pecking at the other birds, then consider boredom to be a factor.
You do not have to implement all 10 suggestions above, but by using just 2 or 3 to good effect you can reduce the chances your flock gets bored.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Chicken Eggs – How Best To Collect, Clean and Store Them?’.