5 Chicken Boredom Busters

There are a few good reasons to keep your chickens happy and entertained. But the primary one is that chickens are naturally cannibalistic. As if it weren’t enough that every other carnivore wants to eat them, they now want to eat each other?! This is a question I’ve contemplated many times. The sad truth is that chickens also need to worry about their own flock, along with all of the other predators out there. The good news is that keeping your chickens well entertained greatly reduces the likelihood that you will run into this behavior in your flock.

Everything we’ll suggest in this post is inexpensive, easy to implement and totally healthy for your chickens. We hope you enjoy our methods and that you try them out!

Community Dust Bath

Dust baths are a great way for your chickens to socialize and stay entertained. They are super easy to make and also have a variety of advantages associated with them. In addition to the social benefits, dust baths also keep your chickens clean and reduce bothersome bugs. The dust removes the excess oil from their feathers and the ingredients in a traditional dust bath help your chickens stay mite, lice and flea free. Any plastic storage bin will work for this purpose, as long as your chickens can get in and spread their wings a bit.

An easy recipe for a dust bath is as follows:
  • 2 Parts dry dirt – Peat moss is a great ingredient to use for this as it’s so light and fluffy. But you can also just dig up dirt from your yard or use top soil.
  • 1 Part play sand
  • 1 part diatomaceous earth (this is what keeps the bugs away)
  • 1 part wood ash (healthy for them to peck at and adds a nice texture to the bath)

Strategic Fruit & Veggies

There is a lot of different produce that can keep your flock interested for hours out of a day. A few examples of these are pumpkins, squash, and watermelon. Depending on the season, we cut one of these in half and put it in our chicken’s run. They will peck at it all day and eat every last bit of flesh away from the rind. It’s amazing how clean they can get a watermelon!

The other method we’ve tried is to tie a string around the stem of a cabbage and hang it from the roof of their run. This gives them the added enjoyment of watching it swing back and forth when they peck at it. The purpose of this tip is to find fruit that will take them longer to eat and keep them interested while they are doing it. You can also use apples or other fruit and dangle them from strings in the same manner as a cabbage. Be creative and be sure that anything you feed your flock is safe for their digestion.

Roosting Bars

Chickens love to roost high off the ground. It makes them feel safe and secure. It also entertains them to hop from branch to branch in their run. We currently have three roosts set up for them at varying heights. We have a lot of trees around our house and just cut a few branches and put them right into their coop. Free and effective!

If you want to get more creative, you can also add a swing to their run. It can be something as simple as a 2×4 with rope tied to either side and secured to the roof.

Mirrors

Birds love mirrors! It’s just how they’re programmed and chickens are no exception to that rule. We were able to find a mirror on clearance at Target for $4.95, which we added to their run. They totally enjoy it and interact with it frequently. It’s really cute to watch them turn their heads and look at themselves in the mirror. Adorable! 🙂

Free Range

This is our favorite way to keep our chickens entertained! It’s free, easy and there are also some substantial health benefits to allowing them out of their run and into your yard to explore. But for us, the most important benefit is that it makes them happy. It also provides them with an opportunity to interact and bond with us. They are very curious and often come over to watch what we are doing, craning their heads comically to see better.

They are not interested in flying over the fence or getting too far away from their coop, which is good because their wings are not clipped. They mostly scratch around the grass and forage for grit and bugs. They are a little bratty when it comes to our garden. They LOVE to get in there and nibble on our greens. But they will take direction and leave when we shoe them away.

As for the health advantages, chickens digest their food in their crop and this requires grit. If you free range them often enough, then they scratch and forage for their own grit. Otherwise, they need it in their feed on a regular basis. Free ranging saves us the hassle of worrying about grit and also ensures their overall health.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips to keep your chickens happy and entertained. If you have any you’d like to share, please feel free to comment below. We are always looking for way to improve out hens’ quality of life. If you’re interested in reading more about raising backyard chickens, please check out our other posts: Baby Chick Care Guide,  Chickens are Cheap, Coops are Not & Chicken Breed Matters.

Chicken Breed Matters

Breed makes a big difference when it comes to choosing the perfect flock for you. Different breeds offer different personalities, egg laying capacities, climate tolerances and egg colors. It’s a good idea to understand your expectations for your flock before you decide which breed to get. This will help you pick a good mix of breeds for your family.

The two breeds in our flock are Buff Orphingtons and Aracuanas. Though we hate to pick favorites, we love our Buff Orphington ladies. They are sociable and very affectionate for chickens. They like to be held and interact with us much more than our Aracuanas. Though our Aracuanas are pretty sociable and always greet us when we come outside, they don’t like to be handled. Both of our chicken breeds are dual purpose, which means you can raise them for meat and for eggs. We’ve become pretty attached to ours and neither of us have the stomach to eat them.

There are also certain breeds that do not do well in flocks together. It’s important not to mix more aggressive chickens with your calm, laid back ladies like Buff Orphington chickens. Our current mix of Aracuanas and Buff Orphingtons works pretty well. This is because they are both friendlier, mellow chickens.

Choosing the right breed for your family will make you a much happier chicken owner. If you’d like to do additional research, you can find information on breeds and order your chicks at Murray McMurray Hatchery, Mt. Healthy Hatcheries, Inc. or Cackle Hatchery. All of these hatcheries were recommended by the University of Florida Agricultural Department and all contain great information on chicken breeds and availability.

Chickens are Cheap, Coops are Not

While the total investment in your chicks only amounts to $2-$3 each, this is typically not the case for their habitat. Coops, brooding boxes and chicken runs can become a pricey proposition. But before we get into more details about the upfront investment, we want to define what we mean by the three terms above. The chicken coop is a secure area that is impenetrable for predators, weather-resistant and that you can lock up at night. Brooding boxes are small boxes where the chickens go to lay their eggs. The run is the outdoor area where your chickens are kept during the day. All three areas are critical to your chickens health and happiness.

Coop Costs & Tips for Happy Chickens

The normal investment that you can expect to make on these three components ranges from $200-$1,000. As a rule, grown hens need at least 1.5 square feet of space per chicken in their coop and 8 square feet in their run. If you choose to have a roosting bar in your coop, which we highly recommend, they need about 6-10 inches of space per chicken. Hopefully, these general guidelines give you a better idea of what kind of coop you need.

If you choose to purchase a commercial coop, the runs are often a total waste of money. If we had to do it over again, we would get one large coop without a run attached. The runs offered in commercial coops are typically too small to be effective for your flock and are very inconvenient to clean. We ended up scrapping the run we bought and buying a 8x8x8 outdoor dog kennel with a tarp roof instead.

Another way to save money is to only buy one coop and size it appropriately for your flock. Chickens will always cram into one single coop or brooding box and completely ignore the others. The commercial setup we bought had two coops with a run between them. We ended up scrapping the run and merging the two coops together into one large coop. Then we mounted the large coop onto a high stand, about 4 feet off the ground just outside the run. You can see what it looks like in the picture to the left. The coop now stands about 6 feet high at its tallest point, which the chickens love. Chickens like to be high off the ground while they sleep. As a jungle bird, the height makes them feel more secure.

While we mentioned that your flock will probably only use one brooding box, it is still recommended to have one box per chicken available. If you have a bully in your flock, she might steal the brooding box and prevent the other chickens from laying if they do not have their own.

DIY VS Store Bought

There are a few questions you should ask yourself when you are determining which route to take for your coop. Am I comfortable building a mini-house that keeps out the elements as well as any predators while still providing proper airflow? If the answer is yes, then building your own coop is a much cheaper option. There are a lot of free downloadable plans on Pinterest that you can use to build an epic coop.

The next area of concern is the run. Do you have any predators in your yard that require sturdier materials than chicken wire? Wood framed chicken wire is the normal construction for a chicken run and would not have been sufficient for our purposes because we have dogs. The chicken wire is only good for keeping chickens in, not keeping anything out. This is why we decided to buy a heavy duty kennel that we knew would hold up to our dogs. Our older dog believes his mission in life is to kill birds, so we had to make sure our run was especially sturdy.

Final Coop Details Not to Overlook

Whether you choose to DIY your coop or buy one, remember to lay chicken wire under your structure. This will prevent burrowing predators from getting into the run and will keep your chickens safe We gave our run a border with about 3 feet of chicken wire surrounding it. About 1.5 feet of the wire is inside the coop and 1.5 feet is outside of it. We then laid decorative rocks around the border for added safety.

Once you have a home for your chickens, they still require bedding in their coops and in their runs. We use play sand in their run as it looks nice and is easy to clean. You can just scoop it like kitty litter, which is way easier than replacing bedding every week. We use large pine shavings in their coop and brooding boxes, the same kind you use in guinea pig cages. Our coop has a sliding bottom that comes out for easy clean up. If you decide to DIY your own coop, this is an awesome feature that you should definitely add to your design.

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to a great chicken habitat. Whether you end up building your own coop or you decide to purchase one, the essential components are the same. If you have any coop questions feel free to reach out to us. We will answer any questions ASAP.

Baby Chick Care Guide

If you want to start your own backyard flock, we’re here to give you the low-down on raising freshly hatched chicks into healthy adult hens. But before you head down to your standard feed store to pick up chicks (pun intended), there are a few things you should know about caring for baby chicks.

Preparation is crucial before you bring home your baby chicks. We have two words for you: brooding box. Creating a comfortable, safe brooding area is essential to raising baby chicks into healthy adult chickens. There are some key components to a successful brooding area and we will walk you through all of them in this post.

Location, Location, Location

The first and arguably the most important aspect of your brooding box is the location. You will want to make sure that the area you choose is clean, safe from predators and away from AC vents, drafts, or excessive heat. We chose to keep our day-old chicks in our guest bathtub in a storage bin that we converted into their brooding box. To keep any cool drafts from disrupting the consistency of the room’s temperature, we closed the AC vent in there as well.

Once you figure out the where, you will need to decide what to put them in. A good rule of thumb for space is about ½ a square foot per chick. As mentioned above, we chose to use a larger storage bin for this purpose. But, a brooding box can be something as simple as a cardboard moving box or a commercial product made specifically for the purpose. We do recommend that you use something at least 12-18 inches high. Or even better, something with a breathable top. Chicks get curious and can jump quite a bit higher than you might expect. The last thing you want is for one to jump out of their box while you’re at work and get separated from their water source and their food source.

Constant Access to Water and Food

Chickens need about 1 quart of clean water daily for every 25 birds. Our chicks either drank, knocked over or kicked their bedding into their water on the regular. It pays to put multiple water sources in their box and to prop them up to about shoulder height. This will help ensure that you aren’t replacing water 10xs per day and it also allows the chicks to drink water from multiple places in their box. They are excitable little creatures and an often forget to stay hydrated. Having 2 or 3 water sources, depending on the size of your box, will help remind them.

Food

You will want to use a good quality commercial starter feed with at least 20% crude protein for the first 6-8 weeks. From 9-20 weeks, it’s recommended that you switch to a chicken grower feed. When they hit the 20 week mark, then you can change to a laying feed which contains a lot more calcium for egg production. We do not recommend supplementing their diets with ground corn or three-grain scratch when they are chicks. The starter feeds offer a balanced, perfect nutrition for your chickens and is really all that they need.

One tip that we highly recommend is that you get the gravity feeder from your standard feed store. If you just put their food in a regular bowl, then your chickens will jump into that bowl and kick the food out all over the brooding box. As you can imagine, this is a huge waste of their food and of your money. The gravity feeder only allows them to access small segments of food at a time and keeps them from scratching it everywhere. It also gives all your chicks the ability to access food and thus a place in the pecking order. It’s definitely worth getting, since it’ll save you money and trips to the feed store.

Treats

If you’re anything like us, then you’ve heard all kinds of chicken myths. For example, Chickens can forage for their own food and survive in the wild! Or you can feed them anything at any age! But don’t be fooled. That’s not necessarily true. The starter feed you are giving them is a perfectly balanced diet and will give you the best chance at having a healthy flock of laying hens in the future. Any additional food that you give them at a young age just unbalances that diet.

However, if you must feed them treats, like we eventually had to (we can’t help but spoil our animals), then wait a few weeks until they start to get feathers. Their digestion can be sensitive as chicks and while they may be fine, we just didn’t want to risk making them sick. At about the 4 week mark, we began feeding them plain Greek yogurt mixed with dry oatmeal. They loved this treat! Plus, it’s packed with protein and it’s easy on their bellies.

We experienced no ill-effects from this and it made them much more sociable with us, since our presence was positively associated with treats. We couldn’t bring ourselves to feed them scrambled eggs because it just seemed wrong. But chickens are naturally cannibalistic and from all accounts, this is also a healthy treat for them. So, do with that what you will 😊.

Now that they are older, we feed them layer feed along with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. This encompasses anything that we are growing in our garden. My husband also likes to catch lizards, bugs and worms and feed them to the chickens. It’s a little morbid, but the chickens absolutely love it.

Temperature Control

Ideally, you will want to set up your brooding box with the heat lamp running at least 36 hours before your chicks come home. We bought a reptile thermometer from Petsmart and kept it in their brooding box to ensure that we had a consistent temperature. It is ideal to hang the heat lamp above the brooding box, near the middle. Please note not to put your feed directly under the heat lamp and to be cautious if you’re using a cardboard box. We bought a red heat lamp as chickens gravitate towards this color and it discourages pecking.

 

If you’re uncertain of the temperature, don’t worry! Your chicks will tell you if it’s too hot or too cold. If it’s too cold, they will huddle under the heat lamp. If it’s too hot, they will get as far away from it as possible it. They will also fan out their feathers to cool off and fall asleep as far away as they can get from the lamp when it gets too warm. When the temperature is right, they will move around their box normally.

Bedding Material

Chickens have a surprisingly sensitive respiratory system, so you will not want to use cedar or fine saw dust as these materials will irritate their noses. We used large pine shavings and that worked great. The most important part of the bedding is to make sure it stays clean and dry, especially the dry part. Chicks do not do well with cold or wet conditions. We dumped their bedding every day and replaced it with fresh shavings.

The sensitive respiratory system is also the reason to make sure that there is proper ventilation in your brooding box. You do not want to close your chicks up in a box with strong scented bedding and limited airflow. We kept our storage tub open, which provided plenty of ventilation.

We hope you have found our guide to caring for your hatchlings helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to message us and we will get you an answer ASAP. If you’re interested in learning more about raising chicks into healthy hens, please read our posts about chicken coops and chicken breeds.