Keep your chicken flock healthy, happy and occupied with these chicken enrichment ideas, toys, treats and activities.
Happy chickens are healthy chickens. At least that’s the idea behind the trend of chicken enrichment. Your favorite chicken breeds could be Lavender Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Australorp, White Leghorn, Silkie, Easter Egger or something else. No matter your breed of choice, keeping your chickens productively busy will most likely keep them productively laying eggs.
That is one of the main reasons you have chickens. Right? Then let’s learn about chicken enrichment.
Benefits of Chicken Enrichment
What exactly is chicken enrichment? Well, animal enrichment is a “principle that seeks to enhance the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.”
For backyard chickens, this means improving the quality of their lives beyond just the bare minimum of care. If we don’t provide chickens with some enrichment, their environment becomes stale. In a stale, boring environment, chickens may resort to keeping themselves entertained through bullying, egg eating and chronic vocalizing.
Chicken enrichment toys, treats and activities satisfy a chicken’s instincts to forage, scratch, roost and explore. They are simple and cheap to set up, and they bring so many benefits such as:
- Less aggression, pecking and feather pulling
- Decreased risk of egg eating
- Less noise – busy hens are quiet hens (for the most part)
- More entertainment for us!
Chicken Enrichment Ideas for Safety
Let’s be honest: chickens are very accident prone. Keep your birds’ safety in mind with these enrichment activities. But please watch out for safety hazards such as exposed nails, unsecured tree branches and loose string.
Chickens can eat just about anything, and a varied diet of cereals, vegetable scraps and fruits is very good for them. Just make sure that the treats you feed are safe for them to consume. Some things to avoid:
- Excess sugar, oils or salt (no junk food)
- Nightshades (like tomato leaves or potato leaves)
- Anything from your yard that was treated with pesticides. (This especially applies to grass clippings from your lawn.)
I had fun putting together this list of chicken enrichment ideas for happy healthy chickens. Because there are so many possibilities, I created a list of Toys, Edible Treats, Environment Enhancements, and Additional Ideas.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Toys
Chickens are extremely curious animals, and they have excellent color vision. That’s why silly toys like xylophones can keep them (and us!) entertained. A Chicken Xylophone is a real thing, and it’s a real hit among a flock of chickens. It is unlikely that your hens will create a hit song, but they will love playing their xylophone.
Chickens are fascinated with pretty much anything that moves, including their own reflections. If you hang a mirror near the ground in your chicken run, your birds will enjoy watching and pecking at their reflections in the mirror.
You can buy a chicken mirror that’s small and cute. These can easily be hung at the bird’s eye-level. But if you have an old mirror in the closet or garage, that will work, too.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Exercise Toys
Chicken swings are an adorable way to keep your chickens busy. The birds like to roost on it as it swings back and forth.
Chickens are a bit on the clumsy side though, so make sure the swing is wide and sturdy, secured properly, and kept low to the ground.
Rocking Horse Roosting Bar
Similar to the hen swing is a rocking horse roosting bar. You heard that right. A chicken rocking horse roosting bar toy sits on the ground, and the perching bar is just inches off the ground. As the hen moves on the perching bar, this toy rocks back and forth.
How about a flexible ladder that your chickens can walk on? Picture a rope bridge with wooden slats in the middle.
Now picture it downsized for a chicken. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, nothing will. Your birds will love it, too!
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Homemade and Repurposed Goodies
Something as simple as an a-frame can greatly enrich your chicken’s lives. These can be made as big or small as you’d like to fit virtually any space. They are portable and easy to move around as needed. Chickens enjoy using them to roost and just get up off the ground. Make your own with some wooden two by twos and some screws, or just repurpose an old wood ladder.
In the wild, jungle fowl like to hide and forage in deep brush. You can recreate this environment for your own birds by placing cut tree boughs in the run. This is a great way to recycle your old cut Christmas tree after the holidays! The evergreen needles last for months outside in winter, and eventually turn into rich compost. Your chickens will love pecking at the bark and resting in the shade.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Chicken Tunnel
Chickens have a strong instinct to explore underneath bushes and trees where bugs can be found. An old play tunnel satisfies this instinct to explore. You can make your own “chunnel” (chicken tunnel) with some covered chicken wire, or even grab an old children’s play tunnel.
Fresh sprouted greens are a nutritious source of food for our chickens, and they love the opportunity to forage and graze. All the pecking and scratching will make short work of anything you try to grow, but you can protect the tender sprouts with a simple wire frame. Now, your chickens can enjoy weeks of grazing without any resowing work needed.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Treat Block
For a quick and easy way to keep your chickens busy, give them a treat block once in a while. It will keep them too busy pecking for treats to peck on each other! You can buy treat blocks at most feed stores, or even better: just make your own! In the wintertime, chickens especially enjoy treat blocks made with suet or nut butter, similar to wild birds. In the summer, you can switch things up by adding fresh fruit and freezing before serving to keep the birds cool.
For a bit of enrichment fun, you can string up fruits and veggies for your birds and hang them in the run. String up chunks of melon, veggies and apple slices up high to give your birds a challenge.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Tether Treat
Similar to a treat kebob, a tether treat is just a treat, like fresh greens or an apple, strung from a rope hanging from the top of the run. The treat moves and swings like a tether ball as the chickens peck at it, adding to the challenge and keeping them busy for hours.
Logs and Stumps
Chickens are ground-dwelling birds, but they appreciate perching up off the ground once in a while. A few logs and stumps gives them a nice place to sit. In the winter, these perching places will be even more important. They give the hens a place to perch off the cold ground, where they can keep their feet warm under their feathers.
If your run is limited on space, a perching tree is an excellent way to give your birds more room. The vertical space satisfies their instinct to roost up high, and helps any bullied birds get up and away. A perching “tree” can be any design that you want, from simple 2x2s on a post, to an actual dead tree.
Chicken Enrichment Ideas: Yard Waste
Chickens simply love scratching for tasty treats. It’s an instinct that they show almost as soon as they hatch! You can help them satisfy this instinct for free by dumping raked leaves, lawn mower trimmings and extra mulch. No need to spread or rake; dump everything in one pile and let the chickens have at it. If you don’t have anything handy, ask your neighbors or grab a small bale of alfalfa hay.
Ok, this one is more enriching for us chicken keepers because it is so adorable, but chickens seem to enjoy a special place to eat their favorite treats! You can find plans for these online, or you can buy them on Etsy.
Whether your chickens live in a small yard in the city, a suburban backyard, or free-ranged in a pasture every day, they will appreciate extra enrichment in their lives. Use these simple chicken enrichment ideas to alleviate boredom, reduce noise and prevent behavior issues.
Then, just sit back and enjoy their antics. Happy chicken keeping!
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