Those who do not have chickens may not realise how intelligent and truly amazing they can be. Due to their intelligence, chickens can easily become bored and need enrichment activities to continue growing cognitively. Offering enrichment activities also helps flocks coexist and reduces negative behaviours that can often be seen in bored chickens.
If you would like to provide your flock enrichment opportunities but do not know where to start, I will break down several ways that you can DIY enrichment activities for your backyard chicken flock. To learn more, keep reading!
Environmental Enrichment Activities
There are a few key categories of enrichment activities that you will find fit the needs of your chickens. The first of these categories we will discuss are environmental enrichment, which is essentially putting additional toys or materials in your coop that change the chickens’ environment. This allow for exploration and cognitive growth.
Luckily, most environmental enrichment activities are inexpensive and easy to make or buy. Some top choices for this style of enrichment are:
Perches and Platforms
These are a necessary part of any coop and something that you will want to make upon putting your chickens into their enclosure. In fact, even completely free range chickens need some form of perch or platform for roosting. There is some debate on which style of perch is best, but most agree that flat wood is a smarter choices than curved wood.
Many chicken owners simply create a ladder style perch that their chickens can roost on when sleeping. However, you can also create perches or platforms to put around your chickens grazing area. These are good for resting or for your chickens to play on throughout the day.
Most perches or platforms can be put together with extra wood or some basic 2 by 4 wood planks that have been cut to the appropriate size. This is usually a simple project, or you can buy premade options online as well.
While this may be a silly option, it is actually a great choice for your coop. Most chicken swings can be made by using a simple piece of rope and a board. You can make the swing itself a variety of sizes, but most use around a foot piece of wood.
To create the swing, simply drill two large holes on each end of the wood and thread the rope through. Knot the end of the rope or tie it into place, ensuring it cannot go back through the created holes. Then hang the swing on any branches, coops, or other buildings that are in your chickens’ area.
You should ensure that the swing is hanging low enough to the ground for your chickens to use. You can slowly raise them to make it more challenging for your chickens or even hang several swings at varying height. These swings are also available online if you do not want to DIY the project.
Dig Boxes and Dust Baths
You should have a dust bath offered to your chickens at practically all times. These are easy to make and only require you to use a tire or similar round shaped item that you can fill with loose dirt. Your chicken will hop into this tire and dust around in the loose dirt, lowering the risk of mites, fleas, or other invasive bugs.
While most chickens will take to these dust baths quickly, you can also throw in some treats to make these dust baths more entertaining. The chickens can jump into their dust bath and dig for these hidden treats. Adding treats to these dust baths periodically can help enhance their experience and keep them interested in this crucial dust baths.
Physical Enrichment Activities
Physical enrichment and environmental enrichment are very similar. However, physical enrichment depends heavily on the chickens doing new physical things to grow in strength. You can actually combine both their environmental and physical enrichment activities, giving them a well-balanced way to stay entertained and grow.
The best way to create a physical or structural enrichment opportunity for your chickens is to create a jungle gym. You can use some of the environmental options listed above in addition to other structures or activities to create a jungle gym for your chickens. It is important to remember that some physical structures should not be left in the coop full time as you should monitor your chicken’s use on these.
To create an interesting physical enrichment opportunity, you can include:
- Stumps, ramps, or ladders. These allow new perching and exploration activities.
- Wooden structures at various heights for chickens to play on.
- Teeter totters can be created or can be purchased. These are entertaining for chickens but do require supervision.
- Bridges or other structures for chickens to walk across.
- Add new shrubs, bushes, or other interesting plant life. Ensure any plants added are chicken safe, as they are sure to snack.
One thing to remember is that these enrichment activities do not have to be expensive and can be made from practically anything. In fact, some children’s toys or even cat toys can be used with chickens as well. It is important to simply monitor your chickens with these new items and ensure that they are safe.
If you know your chickens, you probably know firsthand how important food can become to them. If you are regularly feeding your chickens and offering them grazing opportunities, there should be limited issues with adding food-based enrichment. However, if chickens are not being fed the proper amount of quality food and veggies, this can lead to some aggression.
You can simply offer your chickens new treats in an interesting way or can create puzzle-like enrichment that enhances cognitive growth. Regardless of how you offer food-based enrichment, this is one of the easiest ways to get your chickens to interact with your enrichment opportunities.
Some easy ways to offer food-based enrichment are:
Create a Treat Ball
While there are several premade versions of a treat ball for chickens, there are some easy ways to create these on your own. Essentially, these are balls that your chickens can roll around and treats or food will fall out periodically for them to snack on. Some ways to create these treat balls are:
- If you have a wiffle ball laying around your home, these are very inexpensive and can be filled with food or treats. Any wiffle ball with small holes can be filled with fresh produce, treats, or food. As your chickens roll this around, the food will fall out.
- You can create a similar item by poking small holes in a water bottle. Fill the water bottle with food or treats that can fit through the holes. Your chickens can roll these water bottles around and eat food the falls through the holes.
- You can also inexpensively purchase PVC pipe that is two to three inches wide. Drill holes in this pipe and then put a cap on each end of the pipe. Fill it with treats or food and it will fall out as your chickens roll it around their area.
Of course, you can also purchase these treat balls on Amazon and from many other pet stores. There are versions for cats, dogs, and even treat balls made for chickens specifically. These can be purchased for relatively inexpensively and work well!
Offer Food Pinatas
Another inexpensive and easy way to entertain your chickens for long periods of time while also offering healthy food options, is to create a food pinata. You will simply use string that cannot be easily pecked through or digested and fresh veggies. You will thread the string through the produce and hang it around the coop area.
If you do not have a roof area or branches that you can easily hang these on, you can also make a garland using string and veggies. This will require you to simply hang the ends of the rope onto two sturdy structures. You can then thread cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, or other healthy chicken safe veggies onto the string.
Those who are very, very limited on areas to hang these items can even use sticks to offer these treats. You can purchase sturdy dowl rods at most craft or homeware stores and place the veggies onto these rods. You will then hammer the end of these rods into the dirt around your chickens area, where they can come up to the rod and peck away at the treats.
Use a Food Puzzle
There are several ways to create a food puzzle for your chickens, but this can be somewhat expensive. However, there are some inexpensive puzzle options that you can purchase online or at most pet stores. These puzzles are often created for cats or dogs but can be used for chickens with supervision.
Some puzzle options that work well for chickens are:
- The Hentastic Boredom Buster – This is actually a puzzle made for hens. You can purchase these online, but it is essentially an orange cylinder with slotted holes that hold treats. You can put these at differing heights and with differing treats, keeping your chickens busy for extended periods of time.
- Outward Hound Tic Tac Twirl – This is a dog toy but can work well for your chickens. It requires them to push squares down and it will release a treat. It can be a bit challenging for chickens to understand at first, but you can also add some treats on top of the toy to encourage the chickens to push the squares.
There are several other options out there, but these are two very commonly used options. It is important to supervise your chickens if you offer them any toys or puzzles.
Offer Food in a Unique Way
It is important to remember that enrichment activities to do not need to be super advanced and can simply involve you offering food or treats in a new and unique way. You can purchase new treats at practically any pet store or feed store. By offering new treats such as mealworms, fresh veggies, sunflower seeds, or other chicken safe foods is a simple way to entertain your flock.
In addition, you can provide chickens treats in new ways that are easy for them to figure out. You can pile up a big pile of leaves. Throw treats into the leaves and they will peck around, searching for these items.
You can also freeze fresh veggies on hot days for your chickens. By simply adding a few pieces of corn, watermelon, strawberries, or other chicken safe produce to an ice cube tray and then freezing it with fresh water, you can create a cool, fun treat. The chicken will peck away at the ice, releasing the produce and eating their snack.
Auditory and Visual Enrichment
The final types of enrichment we will discuss today are auditory and visual options. This can be anything that enhances your chickens’ sense of hearing or sight. By offering new visual and auditory stimulations, you can entertain your chickens and enhance cognitive growth.
Some of the easy ways to enhance your chickens’ environment and provide auditory and visual stimulation are:
- Play music for your chickens. You can simply play music when outdoors with your chickens, which can enhance cognitive function.
- Hang bells around your coop or chicken area. Chickens will enjoy the sound of the bells and may even learn to peck the bells for noise.
- Provide a xylophone for your chickens. Adding a small toy xylophone to your chicken area is a great way to entertain them. Chickens will learn to peck the instrument to create music.
- Add mirrors for visual enrichment. Chickens love reflective objects, and you can even find mirrors that are safe for use with birds and chickens. These are a great way to stimulate your chickens visually.
- Add pinwheels, images, or even TV screens outside of the living area. While you may not want these items in easy access of your chickens, providing visual stimulation around the living area will help promote cognitive growth.
Overall, these visual and auditory enrichment activities can be a simple way to enhance your chickens’ living area and provide cognitive growth.
Why Offer Enrichment Activities to Your Chickens?
Whether you have several backyard chickens or are just considering purchasing some of these feathered friends, offering them a quality home is key. While you should clearly provide a quality diet and water to your pet daily, it is also important to offer them enrichment opportunities.
Enrichment activities for backyard chickens can include practically anything that will help grow their minds and enhance their daily lives. Providing enrichment to chickens is similar to providing toys or activities to any other pet. Though many do not see chickens at the same calibre as dogs or cats, they are actually highly intelligent and need mental stimulation.
There are several great benefits to offering enrichment to your chickens. Some of these many benefits are:
- These activities reduce negative behaviours, such as plucking and even cannibalism.
- Enrichment reduces boredom, this can lower stress on your chickens.
- It encourages natural behaviors that can be lost over time. Chickens often lose problem-solving skills when regularly fed by humans, but these activities promote cognitive thinking.
- Offering enrichment to younger chicks can help with brain growth.
Overall, offering regular enrichment activities to your pets can help them learn while decreasing negative behaviors. In addition, it can be fun for your chickens and exciting for you to plan!
Planning Out an Enrichment Plan
Before jumping into the specific enrichment activities, you want to plan out what you would like to do for your chickens and your overall goals for your coop. While most chickens exhibit similar behaviors, you may have noticed specific issues that need addressed from your flock. For example, if you have a less active breed, have some pecking amongst chickens, or have chickens that seem overly bored.
The main thing here is to get to know your flock of chickens and really take into consideration what your coop is lacking or what your chickens may need. You should also take into consideration the breed of chickens that you have. Larger birds may not do as well with chicken swings, while smaller bantam breeds will thrive.
It is also important to remember that some pecking amongst hens is normal behavior. Chickens will naturally establish a “pecking order” which will show some bullying in the process. This becomes an issue when one chicken is becoming overly bullied or your chickens begin plucking excessive feathers from each other.
Always Monitor Enrichment Activities
While all of the enrichment activities mentioned above can be a great way to entertain your chickens and provide them with new learning opportunities, they should always be monitored. You will want to closely watch your chickens when providing them with new activities and ensure you remove anything that may promote aggression or are being improperly used.
You should also regularly take note on which activities seem beneficial and which activities your chickens simply do not love. You will want to provide new enrichment regularly so that you chickens do not become bored with these activities.DIY Ideas for Backyard Chicken Enrichment Click To Tweet