Enrichment for Chickens
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Emilee Lay BSc (Vet) Hons. BVSc
Like any pet, chickens require enrichment to keep those bird brains engaged! Providing environments that allow your chickens to display instinctive behaviours can significantly improve their overall health and welfare - and it is super easy to do! Exploring their environment by pecking, scratching, sunbathing, foraging, preening and dust bathing - these are all signs of a content chicken.Â
There is saying that the way to a manâs heart is through his stomach - well this certainly holds true for chickens. Food based enrichment can help keep your chickens active, reduce obesity - and may have some benefits on egg production at home. In addition, a bit of coop renovation and styling can certainly bring out the best in your hens. Donât forget to rotate through these enrichment ideas regularly to keep your chickens on their toes!
The majority of your chickens' feed should be a formulated diet. However, treats in the form of fruits, vegetables, insects and seeds can be given to provide variety. It is important when using food as enrichment, to ensure that you avoid harmful, illegal or toxic foods. These include:Â
1. Human food. In some states it is illegal to feed food producing animals, swill. Swill includes any meat, offal, or animal derived material.Â
2. Long grass or grass clippings - chickens generally peck the top of the grass shoots, but if given long grass or grass clippings this can cause an obstruction of the crop
Check out our handy Backyard Chicken Guide for more information on toxic plants and feeding scraps to chickens.Â
- Scattering treats throughout their enclosure, or if they free range in a patch of grassÂ
- Using Food Dispensing Toys like KONGs or Puzzle Feeders and filling them with fruit and veggiesÂ
- Freezing corn or peas in a large block of ice, to keep your chickens cool in the summer. Watch them peck away as it melts!
- Tying vegetables to twine and hanging it in the coop
- Create a vegetable pinata and hang a whole head of broccoli or an entire cabbageÂ
- Place straw bales in their enclosure and scatter food around and on them
Chickens by nature are curious creatures and upgrading the coop decor can provide hours of fun for your flock.Â
Although chickens do not to be groomed like a dog a cat, they do benefit from having access to a dust bath. Repurpose an old tyre or litter box and fill it with fine sand, or dig a shallow ditch and fill it with soil, mulch and/or sand and watch your chickens burrow and through dirt all over themselves. You can also repurpose this as a sand box for your chickens to forage through by throwing some treats or insects inside.Â
A swing - these are becoming increasingly popular with chicken owners and its not hard to see why! Purpose built chicken swings can be purchased from specialty stores, or fashion your own with tree branches hung at different heights from a solid point.Â
Recycle - old play furniture for children and even cat furniture is fantastic for chickens to meander around. It can help provide a hidey space or roost for chickens on different ends of the pecking order. Make sure to place some fake grass to help your chickens grip to it easily.Â
Music and Mirrors
Letâs turn up the music - did you know some studies showed that playing classical music can help reduce stress in chickens? Although not feasible for everyone you can also hang up a xylophone in your chickens coop. Sprinkle some treats over the instrument, and watch your chickens peck away!
Bring on the disco in their coop! As with any gal, chickens do enjoy engaging with their reflections! Hang up a bird mirror for them to admire themselves in.
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