That’s entertainment! Enjoying and enriching your backyard flock experience.
By: Hen Up
Welcome to the November edition of Chicken Confidential, our ongoing series of insider know-how and answers to frequently asked questions about backyard flocks. This month, we’re sharing ideas for keeping your chickens entertained and active, as well as some common-sense cautions around handling your hens. Be sure to check out previous editions, like our post on the best ways to protect your hens from predators.
When you decided to start keeping chickens, there’s a very good chance that the decision was motivated primarily if not entirely by the prospect of fresh eggs every morning. And while the yard-to-table goodness of those eggs is probably still the biggest benefit of having funny feathered friends, we’ll bet you’ve fallen in love with the whole backyard flock experience. Hens are funny creatures, and just watching them go about their daily lives doing chicken things can be as relaxing as it is entertaining.
Of course, chickens are also very different from traditional companion animals like dogs or cats. You can’t take them out for walks around the neighborhood. They will be excited to see you every time you bring them food or treats, but they’re not likely to snuggle up in your lap. And while it’s a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after handling or petting any animal, that’s especially important with chickens. More on that in a bit.
While you can’t “play” with chickens in the same ways that you can with other animals, there are still plenty of things you can do to interact with them, keep them entertained, and make the experience of having them around more fun for you and your family.
The simplest and best way to add a little fun to your hens’ day is to let them outside of the coop to explore their environment. They’re naturally curious and easily fascinated by all sorts of things. You’ll also find that they move pretty fast and can clear most fences with ease, so make sure to keep a close eye on them while they’re out and about, and keep your yard clear of anything you wouldn’t want them to eat.
Speaking of eating, treats like our Scratch Grains are always a hit with hens. They also love pecking at pumpkins, squash, watermelon and even cabbage and lettuce, which can make for fun watching as well. Just remember that treats should make up no more than 10% of a healthy diet for your flock, so dole them out accordingly.
Inside the coop, you can add perches of various heights and sizes to give your hens different spots to hang out. Chickens also enjoy dust baths, a process that involves getting as much dust and dirt on their feathers as they can. This is instinctive behavior and actually helps keep them healthy.
You don’t necessarily need to build a dust bath — chickens will make their own from whatever dirt is available to them. But if you have a garden plot, decorative plantings or any part of your yard that you don’t want turned into a dust bath, it’s a good idea to fence it off. Even if they have a dedicated spot for bathing and the most elaborate, chicken-friendly dust bath imaginable, hens will use any spot that looks appealing when the urge strikes them.
This also seems like a good time for a reminder that washing your hands thoroughly before and after every time you come in contact with or handle your hens is a must. Chickens aren’t as clean as cats and dogs — they bathe in dirt, they walk around in their own droppings, and their feathers can hold all sorts of bacteria that you want no part of. And while the risk to humans is relatively low, chickens are natural carriers of salmonella. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems need to be extra careful about interacting with chickens and extra diligent about cleaning up when they do.
In short: Have fun with your chickens, handle them with care, and practice good hygiene to make the best of your backyard flock experience.
Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook and share pics and stories about your flock. Next month, we’ll talk about molting and what happens to egg production when your hens are going through it. In the meantime, send us your questions about chickens, eggs and anything else we can help with.